Library History

A Short History of the Library

By The Township Historian Ceil Leedom  

Libraries have different missions: a good public library works to meet the needs of the community it serves. As the population has increased and diversifed so has the library’s collection and programs. In 2005, a dramatically expanded and reconfigured South Brunswick Public Library building totally changed the original structure built in 1968. That 8000 square foot building was designed to hold 23,000 volumes and seat 90 people. Now it was expanded to a 34,380 square foot facility designed to hold over 200,000 books, magazines, CDs, Videos, etc. and seat around 450 people. 

Efforts to create the first township wide library began in1958 and progressed through the 1960s. A referendum supporting the construction of a library passed in 1967 and a Board of Trustees, including Richard Ilnicki was appointed. The Township Committee approved a bond ordinance for $331,000 in November 1967. Library operations began in the house next to the library in April 1968. Staff included Library Director, Catherine Pendula, Kay Drury as Cataloger/Children’s Librarian, and Genevieve Dammers as Secretary/ Bookkeeper. Ground was broken in May 1968 and the new library was dedicated in September 1969. Library Directors, Robert Ross and B.M. Desai guided the library until Lorraine Jackson was appointed Director in November 1978. Overseeing two major library expansions with upgraded facilities to meet changing library needs, Director Jackson served for 29 years, retiring in July of 2007. Chris Carbone, then the Assistant Director took over acting Library Director and was later appointed Director in December 2007.

Library Trustees began efforts to enlarge the library building in 1978 leading to the 1985 Township Committee vote to expand the library to 24,317 square feet for $1.3 million dollars. The greatly enlarged library opened on November 16, 1988. Increased library use again required the Trustees to pursue an expansion and in 2001 the Township Council approved a 16,458 square feet addition estimated to cost $4.2 million dollars. The Library Foundation, the Friends of the Library and others pledged to raise $500,000 to furnish the interior of the Library. This enlargement was dedicated in December 2005.  In 2010 the final phase of the expansion begun in 2004 was completed. These internal changes gave the technical and reference staff expanded space on the ground floor, while on the main floor they created new craft and meeting room space, a History and Conference Room, a revamped circulation / returns arrangement and space for a future café. 

Use of library materials has increased along with South Brunswick’s population of 14,000 in 1970 to over 43,500 in 2010.  Circulation has grown from 74,000 items in 1970 to 570,000 in 2011. The original collection of books, records and magazines began with about 16,000 items. Today’s collection of books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, videos, audiocassettes is over 171,000 items not including access to electronic books?

Over the last 44 years library services have also expanded, embracing many new technologies and services. Bookmobile service began in 1976. The late 1980s saw computer technology revolutionize the storage and retrieval of library records through the library’s membership in the Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium, a group of twenty-six member libraries. In 1995 a Public Access Catalog gave patrons the ability to search the Library’s holdings on site and at home. A $16,000 grant funded the Internet Training Center opened in 1998. Other grants helped create a new foreign language collection of Middle Eastern, Chinese, Russian and Spanish materials.

Programs for all ages have expanded since 2005 with the additional space that serve the entire community through a large variety of programs from yoga to computer training classes, from knitting to business tech. Technology updates of equipment and community access through its Website, Facebook, Blast emails and library blogs. Two rooms dedicated to teen-age programs and new space for children’s programming have allowed for increased activities for these important age groups.  In 2011 the library witnessed the largest increase in programs for all ages with hundreds of varied programs offered to patrons all described in our award winning newsletter, The Compass.

In 2008 the library was the recipient of a sculpture work by George Segal, from the George and Helen Segal Foundation. In addition to this generous sculpture gift Arthur and Debbie Roedel donated the glass enclosure to house and protect this life-size sculpture of local residents and Helen Segal’s sister and brother-in-law  Millicent  and David Kutliroff.

In these times of reduced funding the library has come to rely on financial help for programming and other projects that support the library’s mission from the Friends of the South Brunswick Library established in 1980 and the South Brunswick Library Foundation established in 1996. Through their work in the community and with businesses they have successfully aided the library.