With a grand unveiling on Thursday, the library, originally built in 1897, celebrated the space’s opening in its lower level after undergoing a rehabilitation and preservation renovation.
“I am so glad there is now this new programming space,” said 13-year resident Shana Wright. “We have come to a couple of programs here, they have a lot of different programs, and I think this new space really lends itself to that well. I can’t believe how good it looks.”
“The nature of the library is changing,” said Hugh Evans, a resident for 20 years. “People do so much reading at home now on their computers and phones. It is more than a space to hold old books. It’s a community gathering space.”
“This new space means the library can take programming to the next level,” said Heidi Schwab, the library’s programming coordinator and emerging tech librarian.
The new space is divided into two rooms, one large and one small. The rooms can hold a combined 180 people.
The renovation also included a garden space which includes tables for reading, accessed through the small programming room.
The library was established under the NJ General Library Act of 1884. It was the third library established under this act, following behind Paterson and Newark. It officially opened in October of 1890 in the basement of the Second National Bank Building with 3,500 volumes on the shelves. The library officially moved after its current building was erected in 1897, opening its doors on April 5 when the deed to the land it currently sits on was donated by the Stevens family.
According to the library’s Director Lina Podles the project officially began in 2007 with construction beginning in 2016 and ending in November of 2017. The space was originally used as a school for immigrants to train them for the workforce.
After that she said it was utilized by the Hudson School before they moved into their permanent facility on Sixth Street around 2002.
“After that it was used mostly for storage and a break room for the staff,” said Podles.
“We began the early planning around 2007 because we knew we needed to restore this building and that it was going to be a long process for the renovation,” said Podles
She said the project cost about $4 million and was paid for through grants awarded to the library from the New Jersey Historical Trust Fund, the Hudson County Open Space Grant, and the Disaster Relief Grant for Historic Properties.
She said one of the main setbacks was hurricane Sandy in 2012, which caused them to integrate flood mitigation tools into their original plan.
“Everybody is asking me what we are going to do with the new programming space and what types of programs we will have,” said Podles. “First we are going to do our established programs the right way. Because of this space, we don’t have to close library services for programs.”
She said before the space the library would utilize reading rooms or children’s rooms for programming occasionally to the disappointment of people trying to read and study.
“Second, we are going to increase the amount of programs,” said Podles. “We want to do more music and perhaps do a special music series. We couldn’t really do that before because we weren’t equipped and not everyone was happy with loud music in a library. Now that can be contained downstairs where we have soundproof doors.”
Podles said it’s important that the library be a community center and gathering space.
“It’s always been the role of the library to get the community together for educational and recreational purposes,” said Podels. “We live in a computer age and the library offers a safe, nonjudgmental space for people to socialize together, discuss together, learn together, and enjoy music together. We are a community center for lifelong learning.”
Roughly 200 people said they were attending the grand opening of the programming space. The library opened other rooms to accommodate people and live streamed the celebration to those rooms so all could enjoy.
It began with music by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and light refreshments before opening remarks from the Library Board President Jerome Abernathy and Mayor Ravi Bhalla.
Podles then presented a brief history of the library and the renovation project. Resident Aubrey Merwin Grossman performed and original song she had written for the library’s 125th birthday. Celebratory cake and coffee was also served.
Podles said the library won’t stop making improvements after this recent renovation. Library officials hope to continue with a renovation on the library’s third floor and air conditioning upgrades.
“On Jan. 20 we will be closing down the third floor for renovations,” said Podles, who added that the project should take about three months to take down all the paint on the tin ceilings and to prepare before further renovations.
She said she also hopes to expand the library services, perhaps opening an uptown location.
She said she has been discussing the possibility with the board and she feels that such a location will better serve the community.
Currently the library has a pop up location in the Multi Service Center downtown as well as in the Hoboken Housing Authority.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.