If there’s a librarian stereotype then at first glance JP Porcaro breaks the mold. His office is decorated with Marvel comic book posters, and a guitar rests in the corner. He’s known for quoting Keith Richards in interviews. He wears Kanye West shoes and a t-shirt from Classic Skate Shop, though he keeps it professional with a tailored jacket. And Porcaro doesn’t whisper, especially not when he’s talking animatedly about his plans as Bayonne’s new library director.
“The Keith Richards quote isn’t to be edgy or cool, but because what he said really resonated with me,” Porcaro says, repeating it: “When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you.”
When Porcaro was growing up the library was certainly his place. From the time he was 14, he worked at the South Orange Public Library. At the time he didn’t see it as the beginning of a career. “Some people get a part time job scooping ice cream or stocking shelves. To me, it was just a job,” Porcaro says. “But when I look back at my childhood I just think about that library more and more. You don’t realize how important things are in your life until you’ve moved on.”
Porcaro worked in libraries through high school. Spending so much time in the library sharpened his research skills. He knew the Dewey Decimal System by heart. “You don’t learn by osmosis, you’ve got to learn by learning. That said, just being surrounded by everything in the library does something to you,” Porcaro says. “I’ve been transformed because of it.”
As he grew older he saw the potential for a career as a librarian. He finished his undergrad studies in just three years at NJCU, working at the campus library there as well. Then he went on to get his Master’s degree in Library Science from Rutgers University.
Does Porcaro break the librarian stereotype? He doesn’t think so.
“I think I’m pretty typical to be honest,” he says. “If you look at all this stuff that I’m into, it’s kind of library-ish, but kind of not. I don’t feel out of the ordinary. We all learned from those older folks, so no one has any sort of disdain for the buns or any of that.”
In fact, the American Library Association was one of the first professional organizations that fought for LGBTQIA+ individuals with what was known as the Task Force on Gay Liberation. He says librarians are sort of radical. (Porcaro ran unsuccessfully for president of the ALA in 2015.)
“Librarians were always sort of pushing things,” Porcaro says. “Those older librarians pushed us to be better, and now we’re pushing more. I’m just following a really strong tradition. We’re all about keeping up that whole tradition of learning that takes place outside of school, that tradition goes all the way back to the Carnegie libraries. This is place where you can learn forever, and it’s for everybody.”
He notes that librarians have always been early adopters of technology.
“The first place that I ever used the internet was a public library in 1996 or something,” Porcaro says. “I think of the library as a place that you can go to try out some technology that you might not be able to personally afford, or even if you can afford it, you might want to try it first. That’s something that I would like to continue doing.”
Since Porcaro assumed the position in April he has replaced every computer in the building. Next he plans to bring in new tech like a 3D printer, virtual reality equipment including green screens, and an audio and visual recording studio in a new teen space.
Learning for Life
“I’m not doing anything cutting edge, I’m just following the tradition that I grew up in,” Porcaro says. “This is the place that you come and learn and explore your curiosity and you can go back and take the stuff that you learned and apply it to your real life.” He breaks into a smile. “I’m just excited about the VR stuff!”
The teen space will be modeled after San Francisco’s The Mix and Chicago Public Library’s Youmedia, where Chance The Rapper recorded his first mix tape. Porcaro hopes that the Bayonne space inspires local teens to explore their talents in the same way.
“It’s going to be a cool place where if you want to start a YouTube channel it’s going to have some legit really good equipment,” Porcaro says. “We’ll be here to help.”
In the process of clearing out a space for the new teen room, Porcaro pulled out archive photos and maps that decorate the library walls and are displayed in cases throughout the building.
Also in the works is a cafe space on the first floor in the raised entry area. “Sometimes you want to sit and have coffee and read your book,” Porcaro says.
The library will be growing its core collection and acquiring new releases. Soon library members will have access to thousands of downloadable titles that they can access on their phones or other devises.
ESL classes and more books in more languages are also part of the effort to make the library a welcoming community.
Kids Fly Free
New children’s programming is in the works. Porcaro, a father of two kids in Mary J. Donohue, led his first story time last week with a reading of “Where The Wild Things Are.” He says it takes him back to his days working in the library as a teen where he led sing-a-longs and arts and crafts activities. The new children’s programs will take place in a new space that is being cleared for events, so the children’s room won’t be closed to other library goers during story time.
“Since I’ve started, every hour that the library is open, every room is open, always,” Porcaro says. “Now you know when you walk in the library the children’s room will be open, and the art and music room will be open.”
Porcaro has support for his many changes. “We have a really great library board,” he says. “They’re behind all the changes I’m making. That’s a big positive.” Porcaro wants to remind residents that there’s a big municipal parking lot behind the building. The Avenue C bus stops out front. Porcaro hopes these conveniences encourage people to come and see the changes for themselves.
Like Keith Richards said, the library belongs to you.—BLP
“This is a place where you can learn forever, and it’s for everybody,” Porcaro says.