By Courtney Dentch
“The library is just another form of education,” said Jefferson, who earned two degrees in education. “You can see people who hunger and thirst for knowledge and a place where they can access that knowledge.”
Jefferson served on the board of trustees for 12 years before he was named president late last month. He took over from George Stamatiades, who presided over the board for two years.
The 19-member board is the governing body of the Queens Borough Public Library system, Jefferson said. The trustees set library policy, vote on procurement and financial bills and act on recommendations from the library's director. Half the trustees are appointed by the mayor and half are named by the Queens borough president.
The board's presidents serve two-year terms and are promoted based on their seniority within the board, Jefferson said. When each trustee joins the board, he or she is given a place in the line of succession, he explained.
Jefferson was appointed to the board in 1992 by then-Borough President Claire Shulman based on his background in education, he said. Jefferson earned bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education.
“I started out to be a teacher,” he said. “It felt good to know I was able to help young people grow and mature.”
But after Jefferson returned from serving in the Army in the Korean War, he found teaching jobs in quality schools difficult to come by, he said. The schools paid well and teachers often did not leave a school until they retired, leaving few openings for new faculty members, he said. So Jefferson turned to Wall Street, where he worked as a stock broker for 37 years.
During the 31 years Jefferson has lived in Laurelton, he had been involved with a number of community organizations, aside from the library, he said. Jefferson mentored children ranging from age 7 to 16 as part of a state program, he serves on the board of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and the Queens Public Access Television, and chairs the York College Community Advisory Board, according to a release from the library. It was his record of community activism that made him a good candidate for the library's board, he said.
“They try to select people who have an interest in serving their community,” Jefferson said. “They want people willing to serve to benefit their fellow citizens in the borough of Queens.”
But with the shrinking city budget, the board, along with the rest of the city, has the difficult task of doing more with less, Jefferson said. The library has had to cut back to a five-day-a-week operation at most branches, and if more money is taken from the institution's coffers, the hours may be slashed even further, he said.
“The biggest item is for us to maintain the level of quality service,” he said. “We're faced with the possibility of shortening library hours to try to maintain those services despite the shortages and the cutbacks.”
The library's 63 branches serve about 17 million customers a year, and for some the library is their only source of information and Internet access, Jefferson said. Queens residents from students to senior citizens to immigrants rely on the library, he said.
“It's one of the most important vehicles one can utilize to further education,” he said. “It's not only for students, it's for everyone. It's free and they can utilize it to better themselves.”
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.