Hoboken library buys two buildings

Prepares to expand main branch

The Hoboken Public Library bought the two neighboring homes for a future expansion.
The Hoboken Public Library bought the two neighboring homes for a future expansion.

Hoboken Public Library Director Lina Podles had a conundrum recently. “Looking at the schedule now, I see we have overbooked the children’s room, so we are currently trying to separate the room for the two groups,” she said.

The main branch of Hoboken’s century-old public library, at Fifth Street and Park Avenue, still has space constraints despite adding new amenities recently like an outdoor reading garden. That’s why they’ve purchased two neighboring residences to the west of the building for about $4 million.

More room necessary

According to best practices for municipalities with a population like Hoboken’s — around 53,000 people in a square mile — public libraries should have about 55,000 square feet of space.

The main branch, which was first built a little over 100 years ago, is a little less than half that size, at 21,000 square feet. The library also has two small pop-up branches in the southwest part of town.

Podles said that the library sees about 200,000 visitors annually and there are about 24,000 library cardholders who utilize the space.

The library is also part of the BCCLS system, so that users of other area libraries can request books from Hoboken to be sent to their home branches.

“We know that despite all the programs we offer and the resources we have, we [could] do more if we had the space,” Podles said.

Library board President Jerome Abernathy said, “We often have to turn away more than we can accept [for programs], and it’s all driven by space.”

When neighboring buildings at 256 and 257 Fifth St. went on sale, the prospect was too good to pass up.

Although the planning process is just beginning for the library’s expansion, the Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustment has already permitted the library to use 256 Fifth St. for some children’s programming, teen programs, and administrative needs.

“Starting in 2019, we will begin to renovate the third floor of the library,” said Podles. This extra space will allow the library to move the administrative offices to the new building and move the third floor programs to the first floor where the offices are currently located during the renovations.

The main branch’s renovations will include updated electrical systems, heat and air conditioning, refurbishing the original tin ceiling, and more.

As far as the long-term plan for the two neighboring buildings, Podles says the library will need to work with professionals and host public meetings to gain input from the community, and secure funding for the construction. The library will seek grants and other avenues.

Podles says the library will apply for a new grant, provided by a 2017 statewide referendum for the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act. It totals $125 million for future public library construction projects.

Current pop-up branches

The library has a pop-up branch in the Multi-Service Center at 124 Grand St., and makes regular weekly visits to the Hoboken Housing Authority’s community rooms, where it has created  “Library Corners” to provide free books and programs to Hoboken Housing Authority residents.

The library is planning to open an uptown branch when the YMCA building at 13th and Washington streets is renovated.

“If you look at our data, you can see that we have library card holders north of Eighth Street, but many of them are not children or families because it can be a trek to get to us,” said Podles.

It will be a few years before the Hoboken Community Center project (former YMCA building) will be ready.

Podles said residents and communities have a lot to gain from access to a public library, not just because they are community centers with programming and meeting spaces, but because they allow people of all ages to educate themselves and explore curiosities.

“I feel education is as essential to human development as eating or breathing, and human beings want to educate themselves freely,” she said.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com or comment online at hudsonreporter.com