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About the Plainfield Public Library

Overview

PPL in bloom The award-winning Plainfield Public Library serves Plainfield's residential, educational, and business communities through a central 45,000sf facility that is open six days and four evenings a week. Through inter-local agreements, the Library also serves residents of many neighboring towns. The Library houses approximately 140,000 volumes, including many special collections, and employs a staff of 35 full-time equivalency; fourteen of whom hold M.L.S. degrees.

Centrally located with free parking, the Library is heavily used as a community meeting place. Nine rooms of various-sizes are available to the public for programs, meetings, tutoring, and private study. Special events, such as town-hall meetings and awards programs, are regularly sponsored by community organizations. The Library itself presents a variety of special events, such as exhibits by local artists and photographers, thematic local history exhibits, lectures, candidate forums, computer training, and children's activities. The basic services of the Library are funded by the City of Plainfield. Grants from private and government agencies provide funds for upgrading and enhancing services.

In accordance with the legal requirements of the State of New Jersey, the Library is governed by a seven-member Board of Trustees. Five community members, who serve five-year rotating terms, are appointed by the Mayor, subject to the approval of the City Council. The Mayor and Superintendent of Schools, or their appointed delegates, also sit as Trustees for the length of their terms.

Our Vision

To be the center of cultural enrichment and information for lifelong learning for the Plainfield community.

Our Mission

The Plainfield Public Library will provide all citizens of Plainfield full and equal access to information resources, technologies, and programs for a lifetime of learning and cultural enrichment, by promoting literacy, preserving the history of the community, and serving as a community center.

Our Key Services

The Library offers many award-winning services:

  • Literacy Volunteers of Plainfield Public Library (LVPPL) is a volunteer-based adult literacy program that provides free tutoring in Basic (English) Literacy, GED Study, and ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language).
  • Children's Services for all ages are conducted in the unique "Reading Rainforest," a magical space for children and parents. Popular programs include storytime, craft day, game day, school class visits, Friday films, and the annual Summer Reading Club, and Reading Is Fundamental™.
  • Computer Services include free-public-access Internet & e-mail computers , WIFI accessibility, Computer Training Classes , and a Job Assistance Computer Lab that will become available in 2012. The Children's Library provides Early Childhood Literacy computers and additional Internet computers for homework assistance.
  • Volunteers are an important resource of the Plainfield Public Library, with approximately 125 volunteers assisting in the delivery of library services. Opportunities are available in nearly every department:

    • Adult Literacy trains volunteers to be tutors and/or office assistants.

    • Children's Library seeks adults and teens to help with crafts, after-school homework assistance to elementary students and to help with large summer programs.

    • Computer Services trains computer-literate adults to assist the public on the Internet computers.

    • Local History trains for a variety of fascinating archival projects from indexing to conservation.
  • User Services include a variety of services residents find useful: transit schedules, fliers about community events, self-service fax machine, and self-check-out borrowing and return.

History of the Library

The Early Years

JobMaleThe Plainfield Public Library (and Reading Room) was incorporated in 1881, following a March 7th resolution by the Plainfield Common Council. On October 3, 1881, Mayor Lewis V. F. Randolph selected nine gentlemen to serve as the Library’s first Board of Directors. They were: Colonel Mason Tyler (who helped get the Library Act of 1879 to pass through the NJ Legislature), Craig A. Marsh and Walter L. Hetfield (both prominent Plainfield attorneys), John B. Dumont, Henry P. Talmadge, Jared K. Myers, Henry E. Daboll (all New York bankers), George H. Babcock (inventor and manufacturer), and John H. Evans (a New York chemical manufacturer).

The first library was created in rented rooms, formerly occupied by the Y.M.C.A., in which the librarian began to build a collection of books and periodicals. The first public librarian was J. Oakly Nodyne (see below for a list of past library directors), a local justice-of-the-peace who was paid a salary of $150 annually. By mid-1885, the Library offered a small book collection of only 178 volumes. The Library Board then solicited members of the community with fabulous response and within a year the collection grew to nearly 2,000 books.

Carneigie BuildingIn 1884, Job Male, a Plainfield philanthropist and the first Mayor of Plainfield, joined the Library Board. He soon offered to donate the land and a library building on the condition that others donate money and art works. The building was completed in 1886 by Job Male and donated to the Library Board of Trustees. In gratitude they named it "The Job Male Public Library, Art Gallery and Museum." The art gallery featured newly donated paintings plus temporary exhibits of other contemporary artists. The museum gallery featured natural history collections of insects, birds, and coin collections. At this time, Arthur W. Tyler, a trained librarian, was hired to organize, catalog, and maintain the collection.

In 1893, Library leader George Babcock passed away and bequeathed the sum of $10,000, as well as some local houses, to the Library for the purchase of “industrial, mechanical, and scientific books” to be designated for the creation of the “Babcock Scientific Library.” This new collection grew to such an extent that the Board, wishing to abide by Babcock’s will, planned an addition to the existing building to be erected. The addition was completed in 1900, and extended the lot up to College Place.

imageWhen Col. Mason Tyler passed away in July 1907, he left the Library $10,000, with the stipulation that the investment income be used for the purchase of books chosen by the Library Board. Honoring a personal interest of Tyler’s, the Board selected books that dealt with United States history and Americana – many of which remain in the collection today. By then, the Library’s collection had increased to over 40,000 volumes with nearly 75,000 people visiting each year, and was in need of a larger building. In 1909, knowing that such a project would be a huge undertaking, the Library Board contacted wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie to see if he would consider Plainfield in addition to the other communities he was helping at that time. In 1911, Mr. Carnegie agreed to donate $50,000 for a new building. The Carnegie Building was completed in 1912 and included a large and airy, light-filled Reading Room with a 22-foot high ceiling. There was also a stack room that held 45,000 volumes and a basement lecture room that accommodated 125 people. The Library then occupied all the land donated by Job Male.

Our Present Building

Male-Carnegie side viewSixty years later, in 1961, the Library was once again in desperate need of space, as well as repair. While it held the 10th largest collection of books in the state, with a general circulation of the 12th largest and an adult circulation of the 8th largest, the children's’ section was highly inadequate. The plumbing and electrical systems were old and sub-standard, security was lacking, meeting rooms were poorly ventilated, unsafe, and just too small. There was no parking and the basic library facilities could no longer accommodate the needs of a busy, modern-day library. The Library Board turned to the Plainfield Common Council (what later became the City Council) and requested funds for the construction of a new Public Library; their request was ultimately approved.

In 1968, the present 45,000 square-foot building, designed by the architectural firm of Curtis & Davis, opened to the public; the older buildings were razed. The main floor Reading Room was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - a commemorative plaque was hung next to the Circulation Desk. By the 1990's major roof leaks were endangering the building structure and collections. The Plainfield City Council allocated the necessary funds in 1994, but it had become obvious that the roof was only one of the many building problems faced by the Library Board of Trustees. In 1996, the Trustees adopted a long-range Master Plan to help determine the cost and prioritization of major repair projects.

new buildingWith the intent of eventually creating a new main entry facing Library Park, the Master Plan was launched with the construction of two exterior ramps for handicapped access. In March of 2002, the first major change was made to the library interior with the creation of the climate-controlled Local History Archives. Designed to house the unique Detwiller Collection of Architectural Drawings, the room soon became a repository for other important historical resources, with the donation of the Paul Collier Photograph Collection and the development of the Diversity Studies Collection.

In 2005, outside funding made possible the next series of significant interior changes: the creation of the Literacy Program Offices, three conference rooms, and two study rooms. All of these rooms were carved out of under-utilized workspace and storage space. With these renovations completed, the Board of Trustees launched a Capital Campaign to fund the remaining elements of the Master Plan. With close to a half-million dollars raised from private donors and foundations and an additional allocation from the City of Plainfield, the Library Board applied the funds to the renovation of the Children's Library. After three years of planning and one year of construction, the spectacular rainforest-themed children's space opened to the public in September 2011.

Funding for library improvements and renovations have come from a variety of sources, including the City of Plainfield Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the federal IMLS program and Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG), various State programs, private foundations and private donors.

Past Directors of Plainfield Public Library

1994 to date - Joseph H. Da Rold, current director
1991 - 1994  - Karen J. Thorburn, director
1980s - Thomas H. Ballard, director
1956 to 1970s - Lynniel A. Moore, director
1941 to 1956 - Luke White, Jr., acting librarian then director
1908- to 1941 - Florence M. Bowman, librarian
1888 to 1907 - Emma I. Adams, librarian
1881 to 1888 - J. Oakly Nodyne, first librarian

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