ROXURY, NJ – Roxbury’s new public library director recently walked into the pub section of Circle Bowl in Ledgewood, looked around and felt inspired.
It wasn’t the beer taps, the TVs or the menu that did it. What brought a smile to Radwa Ali’s face was the friendly, youthful vibe of the place; an aesthetic that resonated with her dream to bring a similar atmosphere to the library.
“I was just standing there and really feeling very comfortable and at ease,” recalled Ali. “I felt like I could sit wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. That’s kind of what I would like to see in the Roxbury Public Library.”
The energetic, 29-year-old Butler resident got the director’s job only about three months ago. But she’s already voicing suggestions for the library, ideas that says brought new life into other libraries around the state including those in Mahwah, Princeton and Chester.
Less Formal, More Friendly
Although there need to be quiet places in a library, the rest of the building need not be so churchlike, said Ali. She thinks modern libraries should take cues from places like Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and even Big Ed’s Taphouse at Circle Bowl: They should be welcoming spaces that encourage people to meet, collaborate, hang out and be creative.
“I really believe the libraries of the 21st century - and many have achieved this - create a space where people just want to spend time,” she said. The successful libraries are realizing that you need to make space for people, not just books. You have to have books, of course. We always need that and they will never go away. But we don’t want to be a repository for books. We want to be a place for people.”
This can mean installing comfortable furniture, music, food and other relaxing accoutrements, according to Ali. “It’s an atmosphere that promotes learning and it promotes collaboration,” she said. “My favorite library is Mahwah. Princeton is the gold standard.”
Princeton’s library recently played a part in helping Roxbury’s library take a step closer to Ali’s dream. “We just got some furniture from the Princeton library,” Ali said. The library was giving away the furniture as part of a remodeling.
“We jumped on it,” Ali said. “It is comfortable seating and one of the things we were lacking was comfortable seating. We got like six lounge chairs and new upholstered chairs for our desks.”
Ali said she’s talked to the Roxbury Library Board of Trustees about her ideas. While funds are limited, the board has been receptive, she said.
“They’re very excited,” Ali said. “I will say they are very open to ideas and trying new things. They’re very happy with the furniture we got and, so far, I have seen nothing to indicate they are not open to experimentation and new things. I’m excited. They seem to be very gung ho and they really believe in the public library.”