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The Princeton Public Library is the Community Living Room

December 16, 2010

The Princeton Public Library in Princeton, NJ recently reached a milestone, and celebrated its 100th birthday this past October! This was a major event, in which local dignitaries joined in on the celebration.

There were bands and choirs on hand to provide musical entertainment; storybook characters came to life to greet young children and posed with them for photos; the Princeton Tour Company provided tours of downtown Princeton; kids walked on stilts and juggled to amaze the crowds; merchants offered free samples of their goods, and cupcakes and an amazing cake designed to look like a stack of books were on it along with drinks were served to attendees. Fun was had by all! The Princeton Library has served the community very well in the past 100 years.

Looking back to when I first entered the library in 2001, it had a dated appearance, and all I knew about the programing was they held a story hour for children in which snacks were provided. The following year, the Princeton Library temporarily moved their organization from the heart of town to a location further north in the Princeton Shopping Center, while the old building was knocked down and totally re-built from the ground up. In 2004 the doors opened to much applause. I was extremely impressed with the facilities, and was curious about events that would take place in the new building.

The Princeton Public Library increased their programing, and it was more than I could ever imagine for a library. There is something offered for everyone. Like in most libraries, there are story times for the kids, but they also have programs specifically for teens, parents, retirees, the unemployed, women and more! I usually try not to boast about things, but I’m sorry, I have to brag about the Princeton Library. This is a place where teens LOVE to hang out. I had a few hangouts as a teen, but it was NEVER the library, and I was a bit of a geek. Out of all fairness, we didn’t have computers in libraries back in my teen days, but the teens aren’t flocking there for the computers, even though there are about 100 of them throughout the facility for patron use, and of course, free wi-fi. I believe the programming is luring them there.

The mastermind behind all this good stuff is program coordinator Janie Hermann. She has helped turn the library into a community living room. Having three fireplaces and cozy seating certainly adds to the ambiance of the communal spaces. Both residents and non-residents gather here for the most amazing events. There is something happening every single day, and often several events per day. Janie told me there are at least 1,600 programs currently running, which is a lot for a library of this size in a town of this population.

Ms. Hermann has teamed up with the Terra Momo Restaurant Group to bring Chef Chris Albrecht to the library to give cooking lessons, and Master Baker Denis Granarolo to give baking lessons. YES, Albrecht actually cooks in a library with no working kitchen! He brings portable electric burners with him. Granarolo has to bring in the finished product from the Witherspoon Bread Company across the street from the library. My friend Katie DeVito formed the LinkedIn group NJ Unemployed, and then developed a website for it, and she teamed up with Janie to host a series of networking breakfasts, and has brought in guest speakers Dale Caldwell and Jim Donovan. The library hosts an amazing teen film and video festival as well and an environmental film festival; they show the soccer World Cup games on the big screen; there are technology workshops for retirees, and there is the ever popular summer reading program for kids, teens and adults. Recently, the Princeton Public Library streamed live footage of the TEDWomen event (TED = talks in the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design) and piggybacked their own TEDx Princeton Library event to it (the x = an independently organized TED event), with guest speakers Jill Foster, Hilary Morris, Holly Landau, Katie DeVito and Melissa Klepacki, and entertainment by singer/songwriter Sarah Donner. Earlier this year they hosted the TEDx NJ LIbrary event. These programs encourage lots of community engagement, and were a huge success!

Other cool programs include the Museum Pass, giving you access to 10 museums in Philly and mostly NYC gratis, free music downloads through Freegal, loaners of Kindle 2/Sony Reader/Flip video & Garmin GPS units, lots of clubs, and open tech time to get hard & software assistance. Concerts, movies, authors, musicians, professors, business executives, tech gurus and more have informed and entertained the Princeton community at the library. The best part is, the Princeton Library welcomes all with open arms, but priority is always given to cardholders for most programs due to limited seating. Non-residents can apply for a card at the Princeton Library for a nominal to moderate fee, but it is totally worth it when you consider all the library has to offer.

The Princeton Public Library has an amazing staff. Five staff members won individual Movers & Shavers awards. The ALA awarded the library’s Friends of the Princeton Public Library with a fundraising award. Leslie Burger, the library director, was the NJLA President back in 2004 and the ALA President in 2006, and the marketing department has received state and national awards. This award-winning library works hard to anticipate its patrons’ needs, so it’s no wonder it’s a popular place to be.

Janie Hermann is doing a fantastic job of making decisions resposibile for turning the building into the largest community living room, and in some cases, kitchen, in the area, if not in the entire state of New Jersey. I’ll even risk saying this is one of the best libraries in the entire country! I know I’m bragging again, but if you have ever been to the Princeton Library, you’d agree, and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? If you don’t have a card yet, sign up for one whether you’re a resident or not, and come see what all the praise is about. But just a warning to non-residents, once you’ve come to the Princeton Public Library, it’ll be hard to return to your own! Yes, I’m bragging AGAIN!


6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2010 11:36 AM

    Wow, what a wonderful post about our library. You have officially made me blush with your praise. Many thanks for taking the time to write about what we do. It is gratifying to know that our hard work is paying off for members of our community. When you asked me about how many programs we do each year I had no idea you were “cooking” up this post. I believe we will break the 1,600 mark this year.

    Just want to add a few comments:

    The concept of our library being the “community living room” must be credited to the vision and leadership of Leslie Burger. It is she who coined the term for us and made sure that it became an integral part of our mission statement. In my role as Public Programming Librarian I am simply doing my job to carry out the vision of our director and the mission of our library in the best way I can.

    Secondly, though I lead the programming team, I certainly can not take credit for all the wonderful programs that happen day in and day out at our library. In fact, we have an amazing cross-departmental programming team with 15 members that bring their best game to the library every day to ensure high quality and relevant programming every week. Without this team we would not be the library that we are and I am grateful to have so many dedicated people on this team to work with every day.

    In specific, the teen programming is the work of Susan Conlon. She does a terrific job of engaging the teens and our annual student film festival that she coordinates is a model that has been replicated across the country. Susan (one of our many Library Journal “Movers and Shakers”) is also the hard-working leader on our annual award-winning Princeton Environmental Film Festival. This festival, which is in its 5th year this January, has also won national awards and the line up that Susan and her team of volunteers have created 2011 is truly phenomenal. Check it out at:

    Alison Santos is another Library Journal “Mover and Shaker” and she is the librarian who puts on our popular Princeton Children’s Book Festival every September and she also heads up our summer reading clubs.

    The Museum Pass program and the free downloads from Freegal are thanks to the efforts of Romina Gutierrez, our many book groups are coordinated by Kristin Friberg, the amazing number of story times for children are thanks to the efforts of all of our youth services staff and led by Jan Johnson. Tim Quinn leads our PR team and works hard to keep our community in the loop about all we have to offer. He is the man behind Connections magazine which is our flagship PR effort.

    I could go on and on … so many members of our staff make our programming possible and I am very proud to be a member of such a team.

    • shutterbuggeek permalink*
      December 16, 2010 11:54 AM

      It looks like this post will splinter off into a multi-part article. The library has an amazing staff, and I know or know of all mentioned. I can highlight so many of them in the months to come. It is apparent that I LOVE the Princeton Public Library, and it’s all because of the staff working together as a dream team of dedicated librarians! Round two will be posted after the holidays!

  2. December 16, 2010 12:28 PM

    I am a Trenton resident who owns a Princeton Public Library card and is an avid supporter of all that is available there. Last summer I attended a five week workshop for Inkscape put on by John LeMasney. Two weeks ago I attended TedX for Women. Just last weekend a PPL technician James Reiner installed Linux on my virus infected laptop, giving me a like-new machine at no expense to me. He even gave me the Ubunto disk in case I want to install the program on another machine.

    Community Living Room is a great phrase that certainly fits the Princeton Library. The staff is remarkable. They prove through their actions that people can be professional, courteous and out right friendly. I am on a first name basis with two of the security staff, who do such a fine job, I doubt that many people realize there are people working in security there. As Janie Hermann so aptly put it, I have found my tribe at that library. I stand back in awe when Janice Painter and Janie team up as they did for the TedX event. The only thing tiny about either woman is her physical stature. They are amazing.

    One of the things that causes me to marvel about all of the staff at the Princeton Library is that someone is always available for any need, yet they work quietly, often unobtrusively. Each patron is treated like a favored guest.

    Great post! It’s a joy to see the library and Janie receiving credit for all they do!

    • shutterbuggeek permalink*
      December 16, 2010 4:41 PM

      Beth, I am so glad you are a non-resident cardholder. You totally understand the value of the Princeton Public Library, and don’t take it for granted like some residents do. I certainly take it for granted occasionally, then I realize how fortunate I am when an event about a topic I’m passionate about comes along. Fortunately for me, that happens often. You are so right about the library being our tribe, and Leslie Burger is our chieftess!

  3. December 16, 2010 2:31 PM

    Don’t mean to be a serial commenter but I should also give credit to the “unsung heroes” behind the scene who give support to the programs with very little credit — mainly our facilities staff and building monitors. Day in and day out Tony, Manny, Darren, Sherwood, and Pat set up the tables and chairs in to different configurations to meet our programming needs. Some days they need to “flip the room” 3 or more times often with little time between programs. They also do so with a smile and are willing to do anything that is needed to ensure the success of a program.

    Also hard at work behinds the scenes is Shaun Pall, our IT manager, who not only oversees our network of 100 public access computers but also our 75 or so staff computers and the technology in the community room.

    We also have programming associates who help host the programs and many community members and groups who make our programming what it is.

    When it comes to events such as TEDx, anyone on staff is welcome to join in the planning. For instance, Janice Painter is our Access Services manager, but she has been with me every step of the way planning both successful TEDx events.

    Last, but certainly in no way least, is the valuable contribution made by the Friends of the Princeton Public Library. They are the tireless group of volunteers who fund raise for us continuously and in doing so provide the funding for 80% of our programs (the other funding comes from grants from the NEH and other organizations). Our program budget is not tax-funded and without the Friends of the Library raising money and our development director Lindsey Forden getting us grants and endowments then we would not be able to host the events that we do.

    Even with this long list, I know I am forgetting someone that needs crediting. Programming at Princeton is truly successful because of our teamwork and not any single person.

    • shutterbuggeek permalink*
      December 16, 2010 4:53 PM

      Wow, Janie the list is really long. The library’s success is due to a team effort, and is only as strong as its weakest link. Since the library is so amazing, it shows the strength of the staff and leadership. I could write about the Princeton Public Library all day. Just one thing, whenever you win an award, please keep the speech down to 10 minutes, since there are so many people to thank! 😉 LOL! Well, I’ll give you 15 minutes.

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