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Monday, August 31, 2015

Joe Da Rold caps 21 years of service to Plainfield as Library Director

Joe Da Rold hard at work. Computers have revolutionized
public libraries -- and how they are run.

One of Joe's great loves is local history. Here he is seen
in the Plainfield Room with an 1899 birds-eye map of the city.

Today is Joe Da Rold's last day as the Plainfield Public Library's director. Beginning tomorrow, Joe starts a new life chapter as the "master gardener of Martine Avenue."

Joe has devoted the last twenty-one years of his distinguished career to making the Plainfield Public Library one of the best, most exciting and most engaged with its community in the state of New Jersey.

Gone are the days when libraries were "temples of books". Now they are centers of lifelong learning using every modern tool to serve their communities' needs for Internet access, literacy skills, job preparedness and community meeting spaces.

Many Plainfield Today readers know that I worked for Joe at the PPL for two years before moving to City Hall to become Mayor Al McWilliams' public information officer.

It was an honor to work with Joe and be a part of reinvigorating the Library as one of Plainfield's "crown jewels".

Joe has helped retool and update Plainfield's architecturally significant library building to serve the 21st century, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

I asked Joe to put in writing some thoughts about his time in Plainfield, and am including them below.

The Friends of the Library is hosting a celebration of Joe's career and contributions for the community. Mark your calendars for that: October 22 at the Plainfield Country Club. I will post more details as time draws closer.

Joe's spectacular -- and restful -- garden
will now get even more attention.

Here are Joe's thoughts on his time at the Plainfield Public Library --


by Joe Da Rold

    In August of 1994, the Library Board recruited for a new director, and I had arranged for an interview while here on vacation.  The current library opened two years after I had moved from North Plainfield to Los Angeles, so this was first time I was seeing the current building.  The building was in great disrepair, and I could tell they were impressed when I mentioned that I was president of my condominium board and dealt with vendor contracts and building problems.  They asked what problems I had noticed about the library.  I rattled off a list of things I noticed while awaiting the interview, from non-working elevators to inadequate ceiling lighting.  They offered me the position two days later – one day before I was to fly back to the Los Angeles.

    The Plainfield Public Library had once been an important library, but by 1994 the only things it had going for it were an impressive book collection, a spacious building, and a beautiful community meeting room.  Inside, the library was showing its age.  Had the carpet ever been shampooed?  Had the drapes ever been cleaned?  These were the early days of desktop computers, so there were none on the main floor, only in Technical Services and Administration.  The beautiful monolithic card catalogs were still in use, but plans to phase them out were already in place.  The planned computer catalog was to be a stand-alone system.  The online system was still about five or more years in the future.

    Outside, huge slabs of concrete, the sides of oversized planters, were leaning at dangerous angles, the steps were crumbling on all four sides, and the sidewalks were treacherous. But the worst was to come.  I was asked to work with an architect to identify building problems.  The Trustees were horrified to receive a lengthy list of expensive emergency repairs.   On the plus side, this resulted in the development of the 1995-96 master plan, which is still viable today.  Within a year the City Council underwrote the cost of a new roof.  More infrastructure changes followed, with the City’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding the demolition of the cooling tower and replacement of the heating and ventilation units.  As I write, The Planning Board has approved plans for renovations of the building exterior, especially to remediate safety issues on steps and sidewalks.  Plans for renovating the interior courtyard are fifty percent complete.

    Computers played a surprising role in how the library changed.  The appearance of online databases enabled us to discontinue printed Reference volumes, opening up valuable floor space.  The Archives Room, a climate controlled space funded by the City’s CIP, opened in 2002, along with the remodeled Plainfield Room.  The Plainfield history books were moved into the Archives Room.  Funding from the State Library enabled us to create the conference rooms and Literacy offices, which opened a year later. Room 2 was created out of smaller spaces, so that community groups could have a meeting space while Children’s Services occupied the Anne Louise Davis Room during the construction of the Rainforest.  The Rainforest, funded by the Capital Campaign, was five years in the planning and one year in construction; it opened at the end of 2011.  One year later the Job Assistance Computer Center, funded by private donations and CDBG funds, opened on the main floor.  This required the shifting of every book and every book stack, ingeniously handled in-house by our Facility Manager.

    When I became Director, I was thrilled to discover that the Plainfield Public Library had a fine-arts collection.  My passion for fine-art and folk-art had been ignited while working for the City of Santa Fe Springs (CA).  The Mayor, who happened to be the director of the California Museum of Science and Technology, asked me to build a fine-arts collection for City Hall.  The Director of the Laguna Beach Museum of Art introduced me to many artists throughout Southern California, and that led to my start as an art collector.  I was dismayed to find that the library’s collection had been ignored, only a few contemporary items had been added in recent years.  Plainfield is home to some wonderful artists, and I am proud that so many of them are now represented in our collection, particularly artists of color.  When we created the new Children’s Library (aka The Reading Rainforest), I wanted folk-art to be part of the visual experience, so I was happy to donate most of my folk masks to the room.

    My love for local history started in Santa Fe Springs where the historical society was strongly connected to the library.  When I worked with the architect on the expansion of the library, we placed the school bell from the town’s first school right inside the entrance.  The bell was from the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell.  Later, I became Executive Director of the Whittier Historical Society, and during that ten year period, I did a huge amount of researching, writing, and lecturing on local history.  Working in the museum field taught me the importance of the role of the registrar, particularly in keeping donor records.  The Local History Collection here at the library is a direct outgrowth from those years.  Although the Rainforest is a knockout, I think the Local History program is my most important legacy to the community.

    We have been very aggressive in building these research collections.  Once we opened the Archives Room, the community understood our goal was to maintain archival preservation standards and make the materials available to the public. From that point on, more and more historic materials were entrusted to us.  This is why the Collier Photograph Collection of 15,000 photographs came to us; likewise, the Chase and Ricketts collections of historic postcards.  And had we not created the Diversity Studies Collection, the Barbara Polk Riley book collection would never have found its home here.

    Along with local history and art, my other passions are writing, gardening, theatre, and reading.  My love of reading and recommending books to friends started during my college summers, driving a bookmobile for the Somerset County Library.  Bookmobile customers “talk books” more than any other group of library users.  This continued after my M.L.S. when I became the first Young Adult Librarian for Los Angeles County Public Library.  I wrote a weekly book review column for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, became President of Young Adult Reviewers of Southern California, and gave book talks in all of the area high schools.

    One trait that sets me apart from most of my library colleagues is my involvement in community affairs.  Wherever I have worked I have reached out to make sure community members were aware of how their public library could help them.  In the 1970’s I co-wrote a grant proposal for Library Services for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.  This became a model program throughout the Los Angeles basin and much of California.  It included teaching sign language to library staff members.  The program was widely recognized, and I was asked to speak about the program at library conferences in Florida and Michigan.

    My involvement with Adult Literacy started here at the Plainfield Public Library. The needs of the ESL clients have always resonated with memories of my Italian grandparents.  They never learned to read or write English; they learned to speak English from their four children, who never learned Italian.  We lost so much of our family culture and tradition, so I have fought very hard to support our adult literacy program in Plainfield.

    I will miss not being at the helm of the Plainfield Public Library, but after twenty-one years, it is time for new people with new ideas to step forward.  I thank the community for the support they have shown, and I want to express deep thanks to all of those on the library staff who helped turn dreams into reality.


AWARDS  -  Red = Individual Awards to Joe
Your Beautiful Library
Photo Contest
Honorable Mention for "The Reading Rainforest" as Coolest Internal Space.
Cengage Learning
Roger McDonough Librarianship Award
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold, for excellence in service to the New Jersey history research community and the general public.
New Jersey Academic Alliance
Trustee Recognition Award
Awardee: Anne E. Robinson, President of the Plainfield Public Library Board of Trustees, was recognized for her successful advocacy efforts to restore the library's hours.
New Jersey Library Association
Gail Stern Award
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold, for outstanding achievement in service to New Jersey community history, with an emphasis on cultural diversity.
Advocates for
New Jersey History
Librarian of the Year
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold
New Jersey Library Association
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold, for services to the Hispanic Community of New Jersey
RAICES, Hispanic Cultural Association
Community Change Award
For development of the library's Diversity Studies Collection.
New Jersey Black Issues Convention
Excellence in Leadership Award
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold
The Nubian Union
Alice M. Leppert Award
For outstanding achievement by the Adult Literacy Program of the Plainfield Public Library.
LVNJ - Literacy Volunteers of New Jersey
Library Service Award
to a Group
Awarded to the Literacy Advisory Committee of the Literacy Volunteers, Plainfield Public Library.
New Jersey Library Association
Public Relations Award
Service Brochure
Awarded to Plainfield Public Library.
New Jersey Library Association
Public Relations Award Program Announcement
Awarded to the Plainfield Public Library & Paul Pinkman for the promotion of the Helen Stummer photography exhibit.
New Jersey Library Association
Journalism Award
Coverage of Library
Services & Programs
Awarded to Bernice Paglia of the Courier News for her article, “Librarian donates 1,881 books to Plainfield library,” describing a large gift to our diversity collection.
New Jersey Library Association

Susan G. Swartzburg
Preservation Award
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold, for leadership and accomplishments in the field of history and preservation.
New Jersey Library Association

19th Annual New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH Book Award Collection)
Thirty-six book titles will be awarded, including non-fiction humanities works by New Jersey authors or on a New Jersey subject.
New Jersey Council for the Humanities

MARAC NJ Caucus Institutional Service Award
For furthering the cause of archives and history in the state, in particular for outstanding progress in acquiring, processing, describing, and preserving local history archives.
Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference - New Jersey Caucus

Award for Achievement by a Community Organization
For fostering human rights and relations among the people of Union County and for promoting and
advancing the understanding, acceptance and appreciation of cultural diversity.
Union County Human Relations Commission
Public Relations Award
For best library website.
New Jersey Library Association
Award of Recognition
Awardee: Library Director Joe Da Rold, for outstanding service to public knowledge and preservation of the history of New Jersey.
New Jersey Historical
Community Distinction Award
In recognition for the significant improvements brought to the lives of the citizens of Plainfield.
Plainfield Chamber of Commerce
Best Service Brochure
For development and publication of "A Kid's History of Early Plainfield".
New Jersey Library Association
Alice M. Leppert Award
In recognition of outstanding achievement by the Adult Literacy Program of the Plainfield Public Library.
Literacy Volunteers of America - New Jersey
Access Union County Award
For outstanding commitment to improving access for people with disabilities.
Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

South Avenue project fate up for crucial vote Monday

'Thumbs Down', painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicts the Vestal Virgins
voting for a gladiator's death with the famous gesture.
The painting depicts both the glory and the wickedness of Rome.
(Full painting here.)

Plainfield City Council has been summoned by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp to a special meeting Monday to vote on the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes)  and a related matter for the proposed South Avenue development at Plainwood Square Park.

Though the project has been in the planning stages for more than a year, with several presentations to various parties and previous discussions by the City Council, a majority has suddenly decided to block the project, saying they were left out of the PILOT discussion process.

Council President Bridget Rivers suggest to the developer last month that he should "meet with Councilor Diane Toliver". Rivers did not mention any other persons who should be present.

I do not know if such a meeting took place, but a private meeting of a single council member with a developer would be a most unfortunate circumstance, if not illegal, and would certainly lead to speculation about the propriety of what was discussed or decided.

Nevertheless, if Council refuses to act or chooses to give a "thumbs down" to the project, it may be curtains for the proposal to build 212 upscale rental units with amenities on the South Avenue parcel the developer has assembled.

The Council majority may feel emboldened in its roadblocking efforts because there have not been throngs of supporters speaking out in favor of the project at recent Council meetings. (Throngs are something to which the Council seems to pay attention.)

So, will merchants -- who stand to profit from increased traffic -- and residents -- whose property values ought to rise -- come out and speaak in favor of the project?

Plainfield's future development may be in their hands just as surely as it is in the hands of the Council.

The special meeting of the City Council has been set for 7:00 PM sharp Monday (August 31) at City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue. Residents and taxpayers will have an opportunity to speak before action is taken by the Council (by custom, residents speak before those who may not live in the City).

Parking and entrance are from the lot at the rear of City Hall, East 6th Street and Watchung Avenue.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Signs of the times: A spicy treat

Whether with one "T" or two, the patties are great,
as the smiling eyes in the price attest.

Waiting for a sandwich at Plainfield's Ferraro II pizza shop near Twin City supermarket, this hand-lettered sign caught my eye.

No matter the spelling, the Jamaican beef patties are quite good -- and spicy, as they should be.

Tiny, very hot Scotch Bonnet peppers give
Jamaican beef patties a special bite.
Filled with ground beef and spices, the really spicy ones are made with Scotch Bonnet, a very hot pepper that resembles a tiny Scottish "bonnet'.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Hillside Avenue Historic District website goes live

The Hillside Avenue Historic District's signs are
handsome and distinctive

Plainfield's newly revitalized Hillside Avenue Historic District's website went live on Thursday (see here).

This district contains some of Plainfield's grandest mansions as well as a mix of striking smaller homes in styles that were popular from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The website is organized by blocks within the district. Visiting each section, you can click on thumbnail images of each property to get a larger photograph. A map of the district is also included (a nice touch other districts should copy!), as well as a calendar of events.

Founded in 1982 amid a wave of enthusiasm about preserving Plainfield's unique architectural heritage, the district has been quiescent for many years.

With the help of new residents in the neighborhood, a flame has been kindled and things are off to a good start.

Peter and Libby Price, who moved to a Hillside Avenue colonial after years in a Martine Avenue Tudor, helped get the ball rolling.

Peter credits Dawn Jenkin (who recently bought Victor King's home), Quin Jarrett and wife Libby with putting the website together.

2015 officers for the newly reorganized are:
Peter Price, president; Dawn Jenkin, VP; Nathan Vaughn, treasurer; and Quin Jarrett, secretary.

The group can be contacted at

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Doctor's appointment -- Playing hooky today

In the middle of the quarterly round of doctors' social visits, I have an early one today.

See you tomorrow!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Happy Birthday, Brother Bill!

Dan and Bill, Summer 1945.
Typecast, even as kids.

Taking a break from Plainfield today to wish my baby brother Bill a happy birthday!

Bill and his wife Barbara recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They moved to Arizona right after getting married, where Bill had been sent by IBM to work on the famed "Winchester" project.

These washing-machine-sized Winchester drives were
state-of-the-art in the 1960s, with their 10-inch metal platters.
Today, a thumb drive can hold all this data, with room to spare.
You might say the Winchester Drive is the great-great-grandaddy of the thumb drive, though the storage mechanism is quite different. Putting data on a drive separate from the main computer memory was a revolutionary development and sealed the eventual doom of tape storage (tape? yes, tape).

They raised their family in Tucson and all have become "westerners" ranging from Arizona to California to Washington State. Except for grand-nephew Chip who came East for college.

A devotee of Tae Kwon Do, which he studied while in the Air Force, Bill has operated his own studio in Tucson for over forty years.

Now retired, Bill and Barbara frequently escape the dry heat of the Sonoran desert to Hawaii, where they find afternoon rain showers interesting.

Happy Birthday, little brother -- and many more!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Barclays Tournament snubs Plainfield participation?

Muhlenberg's Park Avenue lot at 8 AM, August 22, 2011.
Bus to shuttle visitors to Barclays at PCC is in left foreground.

The same view on August 25, 2015. The lot is not being used
for Barclays parking this go-round. The line of cars in the
distance is in the lot across Park Avenue.

Have the organizers of the 2015 Barclays Tournament snubbed Plainfield?

The event, hosted this year by the Plainfield County Club, is in warmups and gets under way seriously on Thursday. Already yesterday, though, Park Avenue traffic was bumper-to-bumper from St. Mark's Church on southward, and proceeding at a snail's pace.

During the 2011 Barclays, also at the Plainfield County Club, the closed Muhlenberg Hospital's lots were used as parking for the event, with full-size buses shuttling attendees the mile or so to the venue.

This time around, not a sign of parking being used in Plainfield. The organizers have staked out areas in other not-so-near towns (see Ledger story here), with shuttles to the PCC.

Parking is broken down into categories: VIP, volunteers and general public. The estimated economic impact for the area is expected to be in excess of $20 million. Some of that is from concessions and tchotchkes at the venue itself. Some is parking revenue. And some is from visitors fressing at area eateries and watering holes.

The likelihood of any of this spilling over to Plainfield is practically nil without any parking opportunities here.

Eat your hearts out, Plainfield merchants!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Business continuity workshop set for Wednesday

Demolition misjudgment put this restaurant out of business
for months. (Image courtesy David Rutherford at PlainfieldView.)

Plainfield businesses have an opportunity to get some free business emergency coaching on Wednesday.

Suppose a hurricane knocks out all the power to Plainfield for several days? Couldn't happen, right?

Or a demolition "expert" knocks a wall over onto your building, making it unsafe to enter? Nah!

Fires? Think of U.S. Dollar's recent experience on Front Street.

Floods? Scotch Plains' Park Avenue business district was under water just days ago.

Business interruptions -- events that disrupt the ordinary operation of a business -- can happen anywhere, at any time.

But smart business owners make some sort of plan, based on their assessment of various kinds of risks to their business being able to operate -- or even survive -- an emergency.

There is no fee to attend, but business owners must register in advance, which can be done online (here).

The workshop is sponsored by Kean's Small Business Development Corporation, the SBA and Rutgers. Hosted by the City of Plainfield, it will be held at City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue, from 5:30 - 8:00 PM.

Parking and entry in the rear of City Hall.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Barclays Golf Tournament will disrupt local traffic until Aug. 31

The Plainfield Country Club is Ground Zero for the next week
owing to the Barclays Tournament.

Time for some traffic problems in Plainfield?

You betcha! But it will have nothing to do with Gov. Chris Christie or his minions.

Instead, it will be golf -- namely the Barclays Tournament which is slated to begin at the Plainfield Country Club on Monday and run through the following Monday, August 31.

Event planners are expecting 15-25,000 visitors per day. Ticketed attendees will park at a distance in designated parking areas and be shuttled to the Woodland Avenue club. (During the 2011 event, Muhlenberg lots were used as a parking location; I haven't got details for this year.)

But those who drive through that general area will want to make other plans. Note the following 6 AM -10 PM restrictions --
  • WOODLAND AVENUE will be closed southbound between Sprague Avenue and Oak Tree Road;

  • MAPLE AVENUE will be closed between Woodland and Park Avenues;

  • OLD RARITAN ROAD will be closed from Woodland to Inman Avenue.
Besides these closures, you can expect extra traffic and long lines on Park Avenue, Inman Avenue and Raritan Road.

The STOP sign at Raritan Road and Inman Avenue will be a nightmare.

If you are accustomed to using any of these roads frequently, make alternate plans.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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