SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Growing up, Linda Hansen spent much of her free time at the South Plainfield Public Library (SPPL) perusing the shelves, catching up on movies, and completing school assignments. However, despite her love for her hometown library and reading, Hansen, who has worked for SPPL since 1993 and served as its director since 2012, initially did not plan to pursue a career in library service.
“I can honestly say that, growing up, I never really thought about being a librarian. I liked visiting the library and loved reading, but never considered it as a career option,” said Hansen, who, following graduation from South Plainfield High School went on to study patternmaking at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “I quickly found that I was interested in sewing as a hobby, not as a career.”
Switching gears, Hansen enrolled at Rutgers University and took on a temporary summer position doing inventory at the library. Shortly after, she was hired to shelve materials on a part-time basis and, a couple of years later, was promoted to working the circulation desk.
In 1998, around the same time Hansen graduated from Rutgers with a bachelor’s in English, the position of children’s librarian became available and, the rest as they say, is history.
“Sunnie Randolph, the director at that time, offered me a full time position as a library intern to see if I would be interested in librarianship as a career. At that point I had almost no experience with young children, and was apprehensive about running programs for them but decided to give it a try,” said Hansen, who, over the course of the next two years, returned to Rutgers to earn a master’s degree in library and information studies.
“It was tricky at first, but eventually - with a lot of help from my colleagues - I found my footing and settled into the position. I absolutely loved it! I found working with the kids and their parents very rewarding. I got to know families in the community and watch them grow.”
Hansen credits Randolph for encouraging her along her path and throughout her career with the library. “She was always telling me I was suited for a career in library services and helped mentor and guide me so much along the way,” said Hansen, who served as a children’s librarian for 10 years and was promoted to director when Randolph retired in April 2012.
In this role, Hansen oversees the daily operations of the library and also works with the board of trustees to develop long range plans. Additionally, when time allows, she still continues to join Senior Library Assistant Mija Clemente for story time.
“My roots are in children’s programming. I love getting to know the families and watching the kids grow. Making connections like these are vital to a library’s role in the community,” Hansen said. “Continuing to be involved in the special events and programs we offer, while also serving as director, enable me to remain visible in South Plainfield and the important role the library plays.”
Over her 25-plus years with the library, Hansen has dedicated herself to ensuring that patrons of all ages have access to the latest materials as well as diverse and interesting programs. In August 2014, the library and borough officially broke ground on the $2.6 million project with construction of a 6,333 square foot addition followed by the renovation of the pre-existing 6,300 square foot facility.
The new, state-of-the-art, ADA-compliant library officially reopened to the public in February 2016 and, in addition to the building itself now being more than double in size, patronage, program participation, and circulation also increased significantly.
Along with hundreds of shelves boosting the latest books, magazines, video games, and movies, the library offers entertaining and educational program, cultural festivals and community celebrations, multilingual materials and programs, one on one technology classes, as well as tutoring, tween, teen, and ESL programs and a variety of different storytime options.
According to Hansen, over the past three years, an additional 1,000 residents have joined the library annually with program offerings more than doubling and participation nearly tripling. Additionally, in 2018, nearly 6,000 children and approximately 4,200 adults attended library-sponsored programs and over 900 kids and tweens took part in the annual Summer Reading Program.
“We went from having a small room overflowing with children’s materials to having a spacious wing specifically for children’s services that is run by a dedicated and professional staff,” Hansen said, adding, “We have a reputation as having really great children’s programming and get attendance from residents of neighboring towns.”
Most recently, South Plainfield partnered with the Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium (LMxAC), providing patrons access to 31 other libraries throughout Middlesex, Somerset, and Union counties while saving taxpayers money.
“I feel that we have one of the greatest staffs and that stems from the top with Linda as the director,” said Cheryl Nagel-Smiley, current president of the SPPL Board of Trustees. “She works well with the board and, since we opened the new library, has been amenable to making improvements to the facility, the collection, and the programs we offer. She is not afraid to get her hands dirty and can often be found on her hands and knees with the kids…She is a very hands on director who is well-loved by the trustees, patrons, and the community.”
Darlene Cullen, who served as president of the library board from 2013 to 2017, added, “Linda Hansen is not only the director of the library, but a fabulous person who constantly gives back to the community. She is dedicated to her staff and the residents of South Plainfield. It was a pleasure to work with her during the construction of the new library, and now watching her to expand programs for our residents, volunteer for events in town, and dedicated to our youth in the community.”
The support from the residents, borough, staff, and board of trustees, said Hansen, have all played a role in the South Plainfield Library growing ‘from a sleepy little library into a vibrant and bustling community center.’
“It has been a rewarding opportunity to work closely with the staff and board of trustees to provide our patrons with top-notch service,” said Hansen. “I am very proud of everything that our team has been able to accomplish.
TAPinto South Plainfield is South Plainfield’s only free daily paper. Sign up to get all the news as it happens at www.TAPinto.net/enews and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SouthPlainfieldTAP/ and on Twitter at @SoplainfieldTAP.