HNA honors the Maplewood Library and the women who built it

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Hilton Neighborhood Association celebrated Women’s History Month and the Maplewood Public Library at its meeting on March 18, spotlighting the women who have been involved with the library since its inception in 1913. The meeting started with a presentation of the plans for the Main Library branch renovations, which will begin later this year.

“The mission hasn’t really changed, except for the digital technology,” Jennifer Sage, the architect on the library project from Sage and Coombe Architects, said at the meeting. “Maplewood especially has not given up on books. What we learned was the books are at the top of the list of what people in the community want. There were other things, but you really haven’t changed your view of the library at all.”

Library Director Sarah Lester said a group of women in Maplewood set plans for the library in motion in 1913: Mrs. H.W. Rogers, Mrs. S.G. Memory, Mrs. F.F. Durand, Mrs. W.S. Goodspeed, Mrs. J. Charles O’Brien, Emma Owen and Mrs. A.R. Stoddart. Aside from Owen, all of the women are listed in the records under the names of their husbands. The original library was on the third floor of the school building, which now houses Maplewood Middle School. Grace Pollard was Maplewood’s first librarian; she was hired at a salary of $2 a week.

The current Main Library building on Baker Street opened in 1956, after it became clear that the main building at the time and the Hilton Branch were becoming too crowded. According to Lester, librarian Helen Winter spearheaded the opening.

“We owe her a lot,” Lester said. “During her tenure she had two libraries and an addition built.”

Former and current female library board of trustees members shared history about the library at the meeting, as well. Marcia Leonard, who was on the board from 1994 to 2004, said the library was one of the first things she looked for when she moved to town.

“What they do is astonishing,” Leonard said about the children’s library staff. “There’s nothing like wonderful children’s books. The program is astonishing. They involve so many children who might not otherwise be involved. There’s a sense of adventure.”

Karen Freeman-Pettis, who was on the library board from 2000 to 2009, spoke about Carol Buchanan, a longtime HNA president until she died in 2019. Buchanan advocated for the Hilton Branch of the library and was a library trustee from 1999 to 2019.

“She helped me understand the importance of the Hilton library,” Freeman-Pettis said. “We expanded progress and access there. It’s become an integral part of the system. Carol never stopped advocating for the Hilton Branch.”

The current board president, Katherine McCaffrey, talked about more recent library history. Lester began working in Maplewood in 2012, and in 2014 the library joined the Bergen County Cooperative Library System.

“Sarah convinced us we needed to join BCCLS,” McCaffrey said. “She was very passionate, and that was really transformational for the library. We saw a tremendous turnaround in what it could be.”

Committeewoman Nancy Adams pointed out that, more than a century after the first library was established in Maplewood, the new one is also being built by women.

“It’s still majority women who are building the library, since the women with just their husbands’ initials,” Adams said at the meeting. “I’m so grateful to all of you for that.”