Guest Column

East Brunswick Public Library Turns 50

Residents got their chance to vote on Question #2 in 1961. Credits:
The original DeVoe Library in the Village of Old Bridge. Credits:
Barney the Bookworm says that East Brunswick needs a public library Credits:
Making a pitch for a local library at the Middlesex County Fair Credits:
The EB Library Association attempts to "acquaint people with the need for a library." Credits:
Feed me! Empty stacks at the EBPL before opening. Credits:
50 years ago at the EBPL Credits:
The East Brunswick Public Library 2017 Credits: Drone photo by Ethan Reiss

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ -  Since its opening half a century ago, the East Brunswick Public Library has grown enormously.  

Hundreds visit this library every day, whether it be for renting, studying, or creating. It is more than just a place for books; it is a little community center for the residents of East Brunswick to utilize and gather, or just simply get some peace and quiet. However, getting a municipal library was no easy challenge. I would like to take this time to look back on how the library came to be from the initial idea, to its opening in 1967.

            Prior to the township’s municipal library, the only library in town  was the (now threatened to be demolished) Alice Appleby DeVoe Memorial Library. Located in the Village of Old Bridge, this small library was housed in a historic home dating back to the early 19th Century. Fred DeVoe, New Brunswick attorney and the son of the library’s namesake, donated the building to the township in 1944 as a memorial to his late mother and was formally dedicated on June 8, 1945. A previous attempt to operate a library in the same building around 1930 did not last very long as the landlord was not collecting  his rent and only took books as his compensation. At one point, the library was able to carry about 13,000 volumes. Although this small library was quaint and a favorite among residents in the area, it was not enough for the rapidly growing township  population.

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            In 1957, the East Brunswick Kiwanis Club held a meeting discussing the idea of opening a municipal library in the township. The planners argued that “the wellbeing of a community depends upon an enlightened citizenry and upon people who have an opportunity to keep themselves informed, to continue their educational activities and to develop and strengthen their social and cultural ideas.” In 1960, the East Brunswick Library Association was formed, headed by township resident, James E. Hess, who lent a big hand in getting the municipal library established. Meetings for the association were held at the high school during the third Thursday of each month. Many efforts were taken to get the referendum passed for a public library in the area, from people standing outside stores in the township promoting the referendum, to manning anAssociation booth at the Middlesex County Fair, as well as holding many fundraisers to help the association’s cause. The Township Committee took no position on it, and just allowed the voters to decide for themselves on the matter.

            In 1961, the first attempt to establish a municipal library was put on the voter’s ballot. Unfortunately, it was defeated by more than 500 votes. A year later, the referendum was put up yet again. That, too, got defeated. For the next three years, the Committee had to properly figure out a plan on what to win over more votes to establish a municipal library. One of the arguments against the establishment of a municipal library was that the township’s population at the time was not big enough to make a facility financially feasible. The American Library Association did not recommend the establishment of a municipal library in a township that had less than 50,000 residents. In 1965, the library referendum was put on the ballot for the third time. The Committee members were so confident it would pass, that they even produced a tape and slide presentation called “Library Story” for township residents to explain their efforts. The referendum narrowly passed 3,741-3,708.

            The passage of the referendum disbanded the association and created the board of trustees, which consisted of the mayor (Aleck Borman), the superintendent of schools (Thomas Bowman), and five citizens (Hess, Ethel Welsh, Eugene Biringer, George Shown, and Theodore Hines). On May 11, 1966, the DeVoe library officially became a branch library. Previously, it operated independently under the DeVoe Library Association. The township committee would give their funds to keep it operating, but were not legally required to do so. It would remain a branch library until 1981, when the township shut it down due to lack of patrons. On August 18, 1966, groundbreaking officially took place for the municipal building that would house the library. During that time, many local organizations and schools volunteered to help build and contribute to  the library. The East Brunswick Women’s Club donated 333 books, as well as some décor for the facility itself. The Boy Scouts took part in helping transport some 2,000 books to the library. East Brunswick High School students helped out by creating papier-mache figures for the children’s room. What was supposed to ready by March wound up being delayed for another two months, due to the lack of enough furniture to operate the facility.

On May 1, 1967, after a decade of discussing, campaigning, and planning, the dream became a reality when the East Brunswick Public Library officially opened its doors to the public, with William Shore becoming the library’s first director. Originally housed in the basement of the municipal building, the library opened with about 10,000 volumes. During opening day, 516 patrons became members. After the first week, 1,631 library cards were issued to residents, already a sign the library was a big success.

From its original space in the municipal building basement, to finally having a building of their own in 1976. It is a huge vital resource to not just the township, but for all of Middlesex County, and even New Jersey. EBTV is housed here, still producing hours of content weekly, and is essentially the go-to local station to promote many of the events going on throughout the county. The teen and children’s sections are vital to the township’s youth to have a special place for them to read, socialize and study. Just recently, the library underwent a major renovation, and with it, came the new Maker’s Space, which now allows residents to use their minds to experiment and create with digital technology. In this rapidly-paced digital age, the library has become not only a place of information, but also a community center. Fortunately,  books will always have a place here, no matter how much technology progresses. There is a reason why it is sometimes  hard to find a parking spot, because so many people need and use our library. It is no wonder our library is not only one of the best in Middlesex County, but a premier library for New Jersey. Who knows what the library will have will have in store for us in the future (let us hope the books remain!)? 

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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