Tag Archive: libraries

Going Beyond Books: New Jersey’s Libraries Need a 21st Century Transformation

In today’s New York Times, there’s a very interesting article concerning the latest cultural, informational and structural changes going on at Boston’s Public Library. The article tells a fascinating story – one that many New Jerseyans are not aware of – of a connection between the increasing viability of today’s libraries and their willingness to change. Libraries are still places for information, no doubt, but libraries have also become places for Americans – and particularly teens and younger kids – to spread out, collaborate, create and get online.

But it’s not just happening at Boston’s long-cherished public library. Even in the most ‘sacred’ of public libraries, that being the marble anchor that is the New York Public Library’s Midtown Manhattan behemoth, books are being placed into (readily accessible) storage to make way for new, airy public spaces. Transparent spaces, technologically friendly, these new “Connective Workzones” are more like giant coffeehouses than the traditional book-lined libraries they are supplementing – and replacing. And say what you want, fellow bibliophiles, about your love of the traditional stuffy library; Americans are voting with their feet and are patronizing these transformed institutions in record numbers. At Boston’s library alone, yearly visits are up by 500,000.

So the need is there and it’s being demonstrated. The “Age of the Internet,” once purported to doom all libraries, has in fact proven to be their savior. There are so many reasons today to visit, simply because we’re not only living in an information age, we have an information culture.

One of the more local institutions that has firmly recognized the library’s new position in the public firmament is the Princeton Public Library. Housed in a beautiful, modern and remarkably transparent structure, it contains many, many books but also several community meeting rooms and even its own coffeehouse. It’s busy staff keeps up a steady supply of events in the form of speakers, roundtable discussions, book groups and films. And yes, it has an excellent Wi-Fi system and a wireless cloud that stretches out around the block and into adjacent public plazas and gathering places.

Perhaps we’re seeing something more at work here. Starbucks has long credited its national success with its being a “third place,” between work/school and home; a place where community members can sit down, talk in a neutral and friendly location, study and enjoy some delicious coffee. Perhaps “the people” are now declaring their need for a much more viable, publicly supported and maintained ‘third place,’ with their intense use of these transformed libraries. I think we’re on to something with this new design that can revitalize funding and use of all of our public libraries. We need to follow Boston and Princeton here and give the people what they want: a library that is the community’s “Connected Living Room.”

Before I propose to the Legislature that it fund a total transformation of the state’s library and local libraries, or create some kind of grant program, we need a study. Pehaps amongst its zillions of bills it could fund an inexpensive study to see how library attendance figures differ at the “traditional” libraries versus these new “community living room” institutions. My suspicion is that once the legislature gets the real numbers, it can start to make some real changes. We should never get rid of the books – heavens no! But perhaps we need to make more room for community creativity, collaboration, connectivity and events.

Just an idea…

Moorestown Library

A huge building is obscured by trees and business signs. The façade is plain brown.

The Moorestown Library isn’t impressive from the busy street, but it’s impressive from every other angle.

A building is so long it takes up the whole block. Bookshelf aisles go on and on.  The main part of the library is bright and open. Aisles are roomy. I walked around for a while and still didn’t make it to the back.

The music section by the reference desk is impressive, not because of size, but of quality. I saw box sets from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Elvis, Big Bands and rows of single CDs.

The meeting room had a stage and plenty of seating.

All these physical traits made for a pleasant building and atmosphere, but the true part that made the place impressive was the people inside. Teens hung out on the stairs. Parents brought kids. Readers sat under trees in front and read books. There were seats inside filled with readers. The reference desk was staffed by two knowledgeable  and friendly women.

I was part of an author panel held in the main meeting room. The room was packed. People bought books from the authors. They traded publishing stories with the audience and the authors. There were free gifts. It looked like every one, author and audience had a good time.

I get the feeling that Moorestown is a fantastic town just by the reception and care of their library.

I posted a blog a few months back about other libraries. In a time of austerity and cuts, our libraries are still a part of our town’s personality. The libraries change with the times and continue to be needed in our towns.  

Guns or Soup

promoted by Rosi

Cross posted from deciminyan

They closed a neighborhood library in Camden yesterday.  Camden – one of New Jersey’s most disadvantaged cities – bearing the brunt of the Bush Recession and the Christie Depredation with an order of magnitude more grief than most of us.

They say that nature abhors a vacuum, and the vacuum created for the children in that neighborhood by the closing of the Fairview Branch library will be filled by drug dealers, gangs, and other nefarious forces.  So by closing the library, Camden residents will be forced to spend more on the already overworked police department and judicial system.

Many Camden teens will lose their only access to the Internet – vital in this day and age to secure even the most low-paying jobs.  Younger children will miss out on the joy of reading – exploring real and imaginary worlds to spark their desire and commitment to a better life, not to mention losing tools that foster better academic performance.  The neighborhood, which has been coming together over the last decade, will lose a gathering place that helps advance that cohesion.  And while the library staff, which consists of two employees, will be transferred to other branches, it’s only a matter of time before they or their colleagues will join the ranks of the unemployed, as the other branches in Camden are on track to close also.

The entire budget shortfall (not just the libraries) for the City of Camden is $28 million.  That’s how much we spend on the war in Iraq in four hours.   Despite the fact that the recovery of one of New Jersey’s most historic cities is vastly more important than the oil wars in the Middle East, it impractical to just stop the war for four hours to make up the shortfall.  But we could stop the war for good, and use those funds to revitalize Camden, and the scores of other urban areas and their people who represent the future of America.  Where are our priorities?

My solution to Governor Christie’s neglect? STEP UP! DO SOMETHING!

If you’re in Collingswood anytime soon, go check out  the library.  Then glance up and marvel at the craftsmanship and dedication that went into the  shiny brand new ceiling.  And then spare a thought for the people who made that progress happen: the members of Garden State Equality, whose south Jersey headquarters is located a few short block away.

In light of Governor Chris Christie’s drastic budget cuts to libraries, it’s up to the community to “step up” and fill the gap caused by an administration whose values and priorities do not include things like local libraries or food banks. (Click the link.  I dare you.)


Garden State Equality volunteers re-furbish Collingswood Library

In this photo, members of the gay rights group Garden State Equality give their our weekends to community service projects that recognize Gov. Christie’s neglectful ways.