It doesn't take an Einstein to realize the value of libraries, although Albert Einstein himself famously observed, "The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library."
That is advice that people in communities far and wide, including Ridgewood, Wayne and Montclair (NJ), have taken to heart for decades. However, libraries in those municipalities, and across North Jersey, are not merely repositories for books, but also hubs for learning and gathering.
It is tax assistance at the Ridgewood Public Library, yoga sessions in front of the Montclair Public Library and reading with therapy dogs in the Wayne Public Library's Preakness Branch. And the importance of libraries can't be overstated, particularly in New Jersey, when considering recent developments.
The interlibrary loan process among the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, which typically handles more than 4,300 interlibrary loans per day among 76 North Jersey libraries, got back to normal only in recent months. This was after the vendor retained to manage interlibrary loans in the state did such a bad job that it led to a backlog of more than 100,000 volumes statewide this year.
The Hackensack City Council this month cut 2.4 percent from the Johnson Public Library's budget, which will mean a reduction in various cultural and entertainment events that the library has hosted over the years.
The directors of the Ridgewood, Wayne and Montclair public libraries spoke recently to NorthJersey.com about the benefits and challenges of running these places that have been, continue to be, centers of their towns in many ways.
Ridgewood Public Library
Nancy Greene has seen the evolution of the Ridgewood library in her role as its director for the past 23 years. "What's exciting to me is that we have become primarily a people place," Greene said. "I think in the old days, the library was primarily a book place."
Greene explained that the Ridgewood Public Library offers "more public programs than any other library in the state of New Jersey."
She said the library's offerings include ESL classes serving citizens of 26 countries, National Honor Society students from the local high school giving homework help to struggling classmates, and three sessions of "baby storytime" during the week.
Greene said the wide array of programs for the library's users has benefited from support from the Ridgewood Village Council. In 2017, 312,000 people visited the library. The other way that the library is providing a community service is something that surprises Greene in the modern day.
"What we find is going up, interestingly to me, is reference questions, which you wouldn't think in the days of the Internet," Greene said. "Now we're finding a lot of people come here to do their research, and they just need help with attaching a document, or formatting a report, or downloading something complex."
What she also finds is that while the borrowing of physical books is going down, e-books and e-magazines are becoming popular. But even with technology changing the habits of library users, Greene said, some things will remain the same.
"I think people are going to continue to use libraries as community cultural centers," Greene said. "Interest in access to books will continue forever."
Wayne Public Library
Jody Treadway said running a library in 2018 comes down to an important factor: money.
The director of the Wayne Public Library pointed out that a lot of the costs come from making purchases of various literary materials to serve community members who are using many platforms to be informed and entertained.
"When National Library Week was formed 60 years ago, libraries bought a copy of a book, and you bought it once," Treadway said. "Nowadays, we're going to buy that book in a hardback form. We have people who want in the audio form. We have people who want it in the e-audiobook form so they can just download it; they don't need the disc. "We need a large-print edition for people whose eyesight is not what it used to be ... So, what you used to buy once, you now buy eight different times."
National Library Week occurs in early April each year. The Wayne Public Library's two branches in 2017 saw 532,195 people visit, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year. Borrowed from the library last year were 353,733 items.
Treadway, director for 13 years, said the library is able to provide these materials and programs by getting financing from various sources, such as local government and the Passaic County cultural fund.
She other programs offered by the libraries include letting people pick up fresh fruit provided by a local farm and lending out devices such as metal detectors. And she pointed out that books have not been sacrificed for programs, or vice versa.
"We mesh everything together," Treadway said.
Montclair Public Library
Peter Coyl said he has found that some people have a misconception about libraries like the Montclair system, which he has overseen as director since March of last year. "What people don't realize is that the funding for the library comes from tax dollars, whether it's federal money, or state aid, or money from the town," Coyl said, citing a report from the nonprofit organization OCLC Online Computer Library Center.
He believes that people think libraries are like museums, which get much of their funding from private sources. But that one negative for Coyl is overwhelmed by the many positives of being the public library director in Montclair.
"I'm lucky in the sense that the challenges I have are a community that really loves the library, and are high users of it," Coyl said. "So the challenge for me has been making sure to have space for all the groups that want to use the library and keep up the demand for programs."
He said there were 351,542 visitors at the library's two branches in 2017, which came out to about 10 visits per person. Coyl said the Montclair Public Library, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, continues to serve its constituents with not only successful programs such as the Adult School and Open Book/Open Mind series, but also planning for the future.
In particular, there are plans for a $17 million project to renovate the library's main branch on South Fullerton Avenue and the Bellevue Avenue branch that would provide more rooms and open space for programs.
"It's going to transform the library to be a library of the future, and that's what the Montclair residents want and need," Coyl said.