Newburgh Free Library Director Chuck Thomas retired after a 22-year career, which was filled with connecting the people of Newburgh through the library. His last day was on December 31, where he has decided to turn his focus towards other Newburgh involvement.
Thomas started working at the Newburgh Free Library in 1996 as a part-time library assistant working with the former literacy volunteer program. After three years, he was transferred to the local history room in the library.
“That was a really exciting change to happen for me,” said Thomas, who worked as an archeologist and anthropologist for nearly 20 years before this career path. “Earlier in my career I was a museum curator and was really interested in history. It was my background.”
Thomas said it was incredible to see the different resources the Newburgh Free Library has to offer, and even said they have one of the best history collections between New York City and Albany. Some of Thomas’ most memorable highlights from his career start as early as when he held this position. He was given the task to digitize the library’s history documents to provide access for more people. The project turned into the Hudson River Valley Heritage project that allows anyone to access digitized historical resources and online exhibits, which can be found at hrvh.org.
“It started a long relationship around history and the importance of sharing documents with the public,” said Thomas. “It took off and HRVH became so big that it morphed into the New York Heritage project.”
One thing that excited Thomas the most about obtaining primary documents was the ability to share it with the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, which he believed helped take their learning to another level. It helped Thomas consider what other ways the library could be brought to life and shared with the community.
“We started asking how the library intersects with the community,” said Thomas. “I got more involved with community organizations, like the Celebration of the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Thomas decided to go back to school at night to obtain master degrees in library science and administration. When the position for director opened up eight years ago, he decided to apply.
Another moment of Thomas’ career he said he wouldn’t forget was when the late Congressman John Lewis came to Newburgh to speak at the Newburgh Free Academy auditorium, which the Newburgh Free Library is now working on putting the recording of his speech in Newburgh online for others to view.
“All of these things came together and had an impact on my life,” said Thomas. “I started looking at this community of ours that have been here for a really long time and started thinking about the different ethnicities here.”
Thomas said that the community became coherent and that one part of what makes Newburgh beautiful is the mix of people it attracts.
“We started saying how can we bring the community into the mix,” said Thomas. “We asked how the library can be a place for people to come together and meet. I actively recruited people and found programs that we could do at the library that would bring together different cultural groups so that we can share the library experience and find out about commonalities among all of us.”
Thomas strived for it to be a place where everyone felt welcomed and knew that.
“It’s an absolutely wonderful community to work in,” said Thomas. “It’s been so much fun for me. I met so many great people working here that it is hard to leave. But I am leaving with a full and ambitious plate in front of me.”
So what’s next for him? Thomas will remain on the Stewart Air National Guard Restoration Advisory Committee as well as the City of Newburgh’s Conservation Advisory Council.
It hasn’t been decided yet who will fill Thomas’ shoes at the Newburgh Free Library. It will be decided on January 12 after the board votes on the recommendation.
“[Whoever] it will [be will] continue the strong community involvement, such as what happened with the Harriet Tubman statue and the different programs we did with that,” said Thomas about his successor.
“They’ll be required to continue the community involvement,” Thomas laughed.