Ernest DiMattia wrote many chapters in the saga of Ferguson Library.
The library was still using card catalogs when DiMattia succeeded Marie Hurley as the Ferguson’s director in 1976. The main building was 60 years old, and its branches were not aging well. Stamford’s library system was ill-prepared for the oncoming digital age.
During his 38-year tenure, DiMattia helped shepherd in many changes at the library. Three years after he took the helm, he introduced the Friends of Ferguson Library, a volunteer group that quietly grew over the decades and now raises some $200,000 through its used book shops. The main shop operates next to a Starbucks coffee shop in the library that DiMattia also helped introduce. It was not an idea Stamford borrowed, as it was the first public library in the country to create such a partnership with the chain.
DiMattia has also been credited with opening a passport office, providing an income-generating service that is nevertheless well suited to the mission of public libraries. And while all libraries were eventually pulled out of the era of the classic card catalogs, Ferguson was the first public library in the state to offer public access to the Internet when it did so in 1995. Today, the public computer terminals are among the most popular features the library offers.
“Ernie,” or “Mr. D” as he was known by friends, also at times faced considerable criticism for relying on taxpayers to pick up the bulk of the Ferguson’s $7-million budget. As city contributions were reduced in recent years, he became more active in seeking additional streams of revenue. It was hardly a new practice for DiMattia, who procured a $1-million donation fromHarry Bennett to complete the construction of the branch that now bears Bennett’s name on Vine Road.
Though the library continues to struggle with funding to keep doors open at all of its branches, the facilities themselves have been enhanced under DiMattia’s watch. It was no surprise that in the wake of his death June 26 at age 74, his family requested that donations be made to the library.
DiMattia’s other legacy is his knack for assembling an innovative staff. But for all his work on behalf of the Ferguson — as well as for other nonprofits throughout the Stamford community — he may be best remembered for his friendly demeanor, his acts of kindness and his fondness for children. Sandy Goldstein, the director of Stamford’s Downtown Special Services District, reflected on a standard DiMattia gesture when friends were feeling down. “He nurtured people through the gift of books,” she said. How fitting for the guardian of the city’s written word.
We believe libraries are the bedrocks of communities. That should not change as they evolve. Leaders at the Ferguson should not hesitate to embrace change in DiMattia’s absence. He always looked forward to the next chapter.