(ABOVE: Hoboken Public Library photo)
A library has always been far more than just the old building in your town with endless shelves of books. When utilized properly, it provides access to most of the tools a person needs to develop personally and professionally. In turn, a library card isn’t just the membership card that fits in your pocket—or on your key-ring— but rather a gateway to never-ending possibilities.
In the case of the Hoboken Public Library, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, there is definitely more going on than may initially appear. Working with 70 other local libraries in partnership to form the Bergen County Cooperative Library System—the Hoboken Public Library is currently in the midst of a $2 million renovation to improve both its resources and its facilities. In spite of those renovations, the library is most certainly open and active, offering programming more days of the week than not.
Lina Podles, Director of the Hoboken Public Library, kindly took the time to answer questions about the library’s past, present and future. Properly emphasized by Lina was how the public library remains essential as ever to a community in 2015. The offerings of the Hoboken Library in its early days may not at all resemble today’s offerings, yet there is a commonality in its patrons being able to use their local library to learn and grow, no matter their age, background or socioeconomic status.
hMAG: This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Hoboken Library. By comparison to what’s there today, what did the library look like 125 years ago?
Lina Podles: If you are asking me about the library’s street view, there are not too many changes to the library building. Maybe the cupola looks slightly different, and of course, we added an elevator tower, as well as an ADA entrance. There are, however, quite a number of changes in the interior—the rooms, though remained intact, had quite different functions. Back when the library was open, there was, for example, a women’s reading room, a law library, the library housed a sizeable collection of books in German to reflect the composition of population of our city at that time. And, of course, there was an Industrial school housed under the same room. The entire third floor of the library was a place of clay modeling, welding, sewing, and other “trades” taught at that school.
The Library benefactors, the Stevens family, donated land and funds for contraction of a building with dual purpose: to educate and support the residents with knowledge and reading at the library, and to give an immigrant population necessary skills to enter the workforce. We found it remarkable that right now, in the year 2015, 125 years after, we once again, have created a space at the library where people can practice important skills of our time, computer modelling, 3D printing, photo editing, etc.
H: Are there any other events coming up in conjunction with the anniversary?
L: This is the year we are celebrating library’s special birthday. We just completed Library’s Second Annual Book Fair, dedicated to 125th Anniversary, we are creating a timeline exhibit on the reference floor of the library, which will be featuring an exhibit dedicated to Sinatra Centennial where the images from Grammy’s museum collection will be featured in the gallery space. And in October, there will be a Special Fundraising Event [as part of the] celebration of the library’s 125th anniversary.
In addition, the library is preparing a special publication of essays and poems, written by our residents especially to mark this important page in our history. We are hoping to have this publication available later in the Fall—the chapbooks will become part of our local history collection.
H: What can you tell us about the current construction at the Hoboken Library?
L: We are about to embark on the first renovation of this size in the library’s history. The library will be completely redesigning the lower level, turning that space into great programming space for future library events and getting state-of-the-art modern equipment. In addition, there will be some work done stabilizing our 117-year-old building and addressing some issues with the building’s exposure to flooding, as we are located in the flood zone. The library will also replace the front door and stabilize the aging entrance stairs.
H: How did you get started within the library field?
L: That was many years ago. I have always loved books and was a teacher working with many different age groups, from elementary school to college, in my previous career. When I came to this country, I used this as an opportunity to switch to another field, which is very close, but yet it has given me more exposure and brought me closer to books.
I went to a library graduate school and began working at the New York Public Library, which gave me a tremendous range of experience and training in the field. I was raised from a Library Trainee to a Regional Director of the West Side Region of the New York Public Library. It is then that I applied for the position of the Director of the Hoboken Public Library and have held this job for more than 14 years.
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