North Bergen’s downtown Kennedy Branch recently marked its four-year anniversary, with residents and officials looking back on its growth and looking forward to an anticipated expansion in the next few years.
The library is located at 2123 Kennedy Blvd.
On a recent Monday morning, resident Maribel Munoz was keeping an eye on her 2-year-old daughter at the branch. She lives only ten blocks away, and said the location was a game changer for her.
“At the time, when it first opened, I didn’t really have access to a fax machine or a computer,” Munoz said. “So it’s easy to just come down here and work on the computers and just print out anything I need. And they’re offering classes for my daughter, so I was able to bring her here and start learning, as opposed to a daycare center.”
Her daughter takes basic learning classes at the location.
“It’s been a great help.” — Maribel Munoz
At a carnival event the library held to celebrate the anniversary Sept. 24, town officials expressed their reflections.
“One of the best things the township administration did was to open a branch here,” said Library Director Sai Rao. “The beauty is, we have one on Bergenline Avenue and we have one on Kennedy, on both ends of town. We duplicate everything at the main branch here, but on a much smaller scale. Once we get the new building, things will be a lot more different.”
“It’s not a library that people would think of conventionally, 20, 30 years ago, where there were just shelves of books,” said Police Chief Robert Dowd. “This is more of a cultural center. When you think of things the library does, they run all these great programs and inspire thought and cultural awareness, and they have different platforms other than just conventional books. Come here after school, this place is jam packed with kids doing their homework.”
Creating the library
A few years ago, downtown residents began clamoring about the need for a downtown branch, as many were unwilling to travel up to the Bergenline Avenue location on 84th Street. The township began looking at multiple vacant properties.
Eventually, the township found the library’s current building, then a storage space for auto parts. “This place seemed to fit,” said Robert Baselice, director for the North Bergen Parking Authority. “We weren’t sure how big they wanted it downtown. The mayor felt this was a nice location, right in the middle of downtown.”
“We spoke to the landlord, they built out the space, and that’s how it came about,” he said.
The branch serves around 75-100 people daily, according to Rao.
A bigger space
Due to the library’s growth, the township is currently in negotiations to acquire land at 13th Street and Kennedy Boulevard from Kennedy Furniture, a store that closed after a massive December fire, for a new downtown library. The location will provide much more space and community opportunities, officials say.
At the library a day after the recent anniversary event, resident Patricia Buratta was using the computers. The Kennedy location is one of the three area libraries she uses, in addition to those in Jersey City and Union City
“The people that live down here have nothing,” said Butatta, a Union City resident. “This is a heavily populated area down here.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com