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Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Plainfield Public Library: Not your grandmother's library

Library Director Mary Ellen Rogan in front of the Library's
new electronic bulletin board inside the main entrance.
Just one of many surprises awaiting visitors.

"Peace and quiet. That's the Library." -- Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve.

Well, the Library is still a pretty quiet place, but Bette Davis would not recognize it, that's for sure.

As a kid, my mother would make a weekly hajj to the Darwin R. Barker Public Library on the Barker Commons in the village of Fredonia, NY.

She would go to pick up her fix of new historical romance fiction. She was on the reserve list for new books and they would call her when they were in. She would read one (sometimes two at a time) and return it the next week in order to get another.

The librarian knew everyone by name and specialty. She would try to send me into the children's room to look at books while dealing with my mother (I was about eight at the time), but my mother insisted I be allowed in the Adult Room if I wanted -- which I found far more interesting.

There was a phonograph in the Adult Room and a selection of 78-rpm multi-record albums. It was there that I first heard Ralph Vaughn Williams' Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis; I have been a fan of classical music ever since.

It was also there that I discovered the big dictionary on the stand had all the "dirty" words in it; I have loved dictionaries ever since.

In college, I drove the Bookmobile for the Reading (Pa.) Public Library (shearing the side mirrors off one day going down a too narrow street alongside the Berks County Courthouse). I have always loved Libraries.

So it was a dream come true when I went to work for Joe Da Rold at the Plainfield Public Library (PPL) in 1996 with the task of managing what was to become the Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room and reaching out to the community to increase its use. What a fun job!

The Plainfield Public Library then was truly a realm of books -- hard-cover books, and government documents (for which it was a regional depository). Hundreds of thousands of them.

The main floor was filled with them. Gov docs and overflow stacks filled most of the basement level (where all the meeting rooms are now).

This was on the cusp of the Internet age (one program I arranged to introduce the Internet to the public drew a standing room only crowd to the meeting room).

CDs were a new lending opportunity for the Library (you do remember CDs, right?).

Folks still went to the Unemployment Office on Madison Avenue to look for work and apply for unemployment benefits. Now they do it at the Library.

From the award-winning jungle-themed Children's Room to the banks of computers in the main reading room, today's Library is radically different -- not your grandmother's (or grandfather's) Library any more.

Not only can folks search for jobs on the Library's computers, they can take computer classes to hone their office skills in the Library's computer labs.

And you can download or stream audiobooks, books, magazines, movies, and music -- all with your Library card.

Wanna learn to design websites or write code? The Library's subscription opens it to you for free.

Need tutoring? The Library's subscription to lets you get free tutoring in Math, Science and English -- including test prep and AP (their slogan is 'Better Grades Guaranteed').

And the NJ State Library brings you hundreds of online resources for every phase of lifelong learning -- from high school to college and beyond, from career prep and advancement to online courses for Spanish-speakers.

If languages are your thing, there are the Library's subscriptions to Rocket Languages and Rosetta Stone. Need to brush up on your French? How about Chinese in advance of that posting to Beijing you are angling for? Or sign language? All for free with your Library card.

Genealogy? Your Library card gives you free access to and other databases with over 100 million genealogical records.

Academic journals? Gotcha covered.

Legal information and legal forms? Ditto.

News or information on all branches of the military and federal government? Also ditto.

Besides all this (and more), if you need a quiet place to study or read, the Library offers plenty of options from tables in the main reading room to private study carrels. And there's free WiFi.

All you need to access this bounty is your Library card. Library cards are free to Plainfield residents; simply show your drivers license or proof of residence.

To learn more, visit the Plainfield Public Library website here, call (908) 757-1111, or stop by the Library at Park Avenue and 8th Street.

 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]

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