Sai Rao grew up in India, with parents who emphasized the ideal of community service. She brings that ideal into her work as library director at the North Bergen Free Public Library. The library hosts numerous community programs, some quite unique.
Rao followed in her father’s footsteps in becoming a librarian. Her father also inspired her love of books.
“He was my inspiration and I’m glad I followed his path,” said Rao. “If I was born again I’d want to be a librarian. I think it’s God’s gift to me to get paid for what I love to do.”
Rao began as an adult reference librarian at the North Bergen Public Library in 1991. She was appointed the assistant director by Mayor Nicholas Sacco and the Board of Trustees in 1994 and became the director in 1996.
“There’s clearly a commitment by the administration to have some presence downtown over the next year or two.” – Township Administrator Chris Pianese
“Sai is one of the greatest finds that North Bergen ever had,” said Mayor Sacco.
Library and community center
Rao has transformed the library into a community center that targets every age group.
“Sai is constantly striving to keep up with and exceed the needs of the community, because now more than ever it is necessary to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing society,” said Library Business Manager Tracey Rivera.
“My goal is to bring the entire community into the building,” said Rao.
When she became library director, its offerings consisted of two children’s programs and a handful of computers. Since then it has become jam packed with programs and a computer lab.
Programs include Daily Toddler, ESL, Computer Training, Yoga, Knitting, Chess, Resume Writing, the Senior Matinee, and many more.
For a list of programs, visit www. nbpl.org/ or visit the library at 8411 Bergenline Ave. The library is also shared with the neighboring town of Guttenberg.
Rao has obtained over $250,000 in grants over six years that helped to revitalize the once humble library.
“All of our initial accomplishments have come through grant money,” said Rao.
According to Rivera, a sub-grant from the Hudson County Community College’s three-year program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education/Division of Vocational Education and Mayor Sacco made it possible to build a computer lab that holds 20 desktop computers with a PC Instructor.
“This technology brought new life to the library as well as an array of programming to the public,” said Rivera. “[It] was especially exciting that North Bergen was the first library in the area to have a computer lab on the premises. The computer lab has been updated with new equipment twice in the past 12 years as well as the other technology around the building.”
The library also hosts a yearly event in April called “Taste Of,” a cultural series that highlights countries around the world. The countries featured thus far are India, Spain, Ireland, and China.
“Without Director Sai Rao and the support of Mayor Nicholas Sacco, the Library Board of Trustees and the support of our community, the North Bergen Free Public Library would not be what it is today,” said Rivera.
“We’ve been creative, inventive, enthusiastic about our programs and services,” said Rao. “I think it’s a team effort.”
Mayor Sacco, Township Administrator Chris Pianese, and Rao agree they would like to target the downtown population, since those residents are forced to travel nearly five miles to visit the North Bergen Library. Sacco agreed to pursue a branch downtown two years ago.
“There are many goals Mrs. Rao will set out to achieve over the years to come, a few being an addition of a branch to meet the needs of our downtown population, as well as a mobile library app,” said Rivera.
“There’s clearly a commitment by the administration to have some presence downtown over the next year or two,” said Pianese.
The underlining issue for the new branch is money. Pianese created initial funding through a recent multi-purpose ordinance that would earmark $200,000 from the capital budget. The money will either go towards the renovation of an existing building or the construction of a new one.
“It all comes down to the amount of dollars and cents,” said Pianese. “[The issue is] the long term cost of staffing it and operating it.”
As of last week, Pianese is “aggressively pursuing another location downtown.” He hopes to make a decision by spring for the new branch.
The town may house the new branch in the same building as a public preschool, in order to cut costs.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org