MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood broke ground on its soon to be new and improved library on Oct. 1, kicking off an 18-month renovation at the main branch that will see a near complete overhaul of the building. Funded by the town, private donations and the state Library Construction Bond Act, the Maplewood Public Library will reopen in early 2024 to residents. At the groundbreaking ceremony, which was moved to Town Hall because of inclement weather, a time capsule that was buried in the library in 1955 during the last renovation was opened.
“Libraries have always been more than stacks of books,” Mayor Dean Dafis said at the ceremony. “I’m very proud that all of us are gathered here today to move our library forward.”
The Maplewood Library is part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, a consortium of libraries in North Jersey that shares a catalog and services. David Hanson, the director of BCCLS, attended the groundbreaking.
“We don’t build libraries to form a community, we build them because there’s a community that needs it already,” Hanson said. “This is an investment from you, from the town and from the state. As we raise one library, we raise all of them. I thank you for making all of the communities better.”
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, a proponent of the Library Construction Bond Act, said she has long been a supporter of the library in Maplewood. Her mother was a frequent patron; now in her 90s, she doesn’t get out as often as she used to.
“It’s hard for her to get out now, but they still provide books and services for her,” Jasey said at the ceremony. “We want to invest in the future of the library. The best part of this job is seeing a project like this come to fruition.”
The main branch of the library has been closed for a year already, after the whole bottom floor flooded when the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept across the Northeast last September. But Deputy Mayor Vic DeLuca described the library as a safe haven in 2012, as Superstorm Sandy ravaged the state and left many residents without power.
“That was one of the only places to go that had the lights on, to go work if you needed to, to charge your phone,” DeLuca said. “It was a beacon, and then it was a victim. Now it will be the best in the state of New Jersey.”
When completed, the library will be completely free of fossil fuels and fully run on electricity. It will be the only municipal building of its kind in New Jersey. But before the new building is completed, the community will be putting together a new time capsule to replace the one they opened at the ceremony. In the metal box that was pulled out of a cornerstone of the main branch’s building was a collection of newspapers from the 1940s and 1950s, a library card from the era, zoning maps, a roster of the library board of trustees at the time and photos of the 1955 renovation groundbreaking, among other items. The library’s annual report from 1955 said the library’s catalog was 49,000 books large; library Director Sarah Lester said at the ceremony that the collection is now more than 100,000 books in addition to the 5 million other materials BCCLS libraries have access to.
It’s too early to start gathering materials for the new time capsule, but when it is time Lester said she wants to involve the South Orange–Maplewood School District and the young people in town.
“We want to be creative and get everyone involved, especially kids,” Lester said in an interview with the News-Record at the ceremony. “Hopefully we can top this one.”
Since the main branch has been closed, the children and young adult sections have moved to the Hilton Branch. What didn’t fit there is in an alternate space on Boyden Avenue. The opening of the new main branch is still a while away, but Lester is excited for the future.
“Libraries have already been termed the palaces of the people,” she said. “We’re looking forward to having this in Maplewood. You can tell how many people are excited about it, and that’s great. This town deserves a building like that.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic