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New director brings worldly knowledge

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD Dr. Ralph Melnick, who asks that you address him by his first name, "Ralph," has recently joined the staff at the Westfield Atheneum in July as the new assistant director.

A first generation college student in his family who originated from the Bronx, NY, Melnick went on to receive a ph.D in Religion from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in 1977, and has authored numerous publications.

Despite his education, Melnick said with a smile, "I have a clear sense of what I don't know."

he stated that one of his main goals while at the Atheneum includes preserving historical artifacts for the city.

"A prior effort has been started by volunteers to get a movement towards the historical collection most of it is in a storage area in the attic," he said.

According to this former instructor at Williston Northampton School, the collection contains photographs of buildings and events of some of the people from Westfield.

"Westfield has a history that mirrors in the history of the country but has it's own uniqueness as well," Melnick said. "People have that interest, they want to know their own history," he said.

There is a social memory of any community that needs to be preserved, he said.

The process Melnick will need to follow to secure funding for the Atheneum includes applying for numerous grants and aid from federal and state agencies.

"The competition is fierce for libraries, museums and historical commissions in towns and cities all around that are worthy of preservation," he said.

The seasoned historian explained that the awarded money would be applied to "bringing intellectual control" over the materials in the collection.

"To have [them] cataloged and properly preserved; acid free folders that won't deteriorate over time; climate controls. Things will not last as long as they could under better conditions," he said.

"When I first started in this business in the mid to late 70's, the country had just gotten out of war (Vietnam) and professionally a lot of what is here is like what most places had 30 to 40 years ago," he said.

Melnick said he would like to spend time working with patrons, "I am a very hands-on type of person," he said. "If I could take a truck of books and reshelf them I'd be happy, to see the materials, and the collection."

Things are really operating well at the Atheneum said Melnick, "It is a very good and very dedicated bunch of people here."

The New York University graduate has previously taught Islam, Buddhist, Judaism, Christian and Jewish classes at schools that included University of Massachusetts.

Melnick spoke on "life long learning."

"Most education beyond the early years takes place by yourself. Much of what you learn is what you are interested in. I saw far too many students including myself pushed to learn things that we have no interest in. The public library is where life long learning takes place where those interests can be found. I have personal interest in turning whatever energies I have in this direction and to make whatever contribution I can," he said.

Melnick mentioned many resources that the Atheneum is currently offers that include the interlibrary loan network which links the central and western Mass. libraries.

"If someone comes in wanting something then [the loan network] picks up and drops off books on a regular basis,"

The loan program allows patrons to have access to a library system that includes collections from UMass to Mount Holyoke College and allowing everyone's budget to stretch further.

More information can be found by calling the library at 568-0638 or by coming in for a visit.