RANDOLPH, NJ - “It’s like a different planet,” said Randolph Library director Anita Freeman, commenting on the progress during her decades of service to the library. “I started here on January 26, 1981, so 36 years on the 26th.”
After all these years of service, Freeman is retiring on Jan. 31 to spend more time with her new granddaughter. But she won’t be gone for long: Freeman will continue to lead book clubs at the library as a volunteer.
“The day after I retire, I’ll be back for book club,” Freeman laughed. “So I’ll have 23 hours of full retirement before I come back.”
She described the early years at the library, when it occupied the building that is now Artworks Studio.
“We had bats, snakes and wild kittens [in the basement], and animal control would not come to get them,” she remembered. “The mother cat was on the roof of the library howling!”
When asked about her favorite memory at Randolph Library, Freeman told of a woman and her two young daughters who would visit that old library building.
“They were little, and they were reading flash-in-the-pan paperbacks... But I said to them, ‘there’s better stuff for you to read here,’” she said. “And those children are doctors now. Before [the mother] moved to Florida, she came back in and said ‘I just always credit you with getting my girls on the right path, as far as their reading.’”
The library outgrew the building on Millbrook Avenue and began looking for the best place to relocate.
“The library had saved a lot of money for the time, hoping for a new facility, and it went through a lot of searching for abandoned buildings,” Freeman said. “This building had a lot of promise, and the town said we could renovate it.”
In 1985, the library moved into the former restaurant at Ackerman’s Hotel where the township had been storing snow plows and other equipment. The community center next-door to the library had been the hotel’s casino, but was not updated until 2011.
“The lobby didn’t exist; it was just a field with an electrical pole in the middle of it,” she pointed to different areas of the library. “The big oak bar was still in this room [the children’s section],... and the dining room was a Mediterranean style with archways; that was still there, too.”
Each year the library staff painted and added on to make the facility welcoming to residents.
Freeman believes one of her greatest accomplishments was helping the library grow with the population. She commented that there were 13,000 residents in Randolph when she became the director, and the population has almost doubled with 25,734 residents, according to the 2010 census.
“[We have] the ability to give the people the materials they’re looking for; we were one of the first libraries to have a circulating movie collection,” Freeman stated. “We were one of the first libraries to have foreign films.”
Freeman added that the community values education and provides the library with a budget able to meet the demands of the people who live here, as well as maintain programs such as summer concerts, knitting clubs, and book clubs.
“I just wish more people would avail themselves of what we have,” Freeman concluded. “So many people have a preconceived notion that libraries are musty dusty places and don’t have anything new. We get new stuff every day. I would like to encourage people to see where their tax dollars are being spent.”