RED BANK: LIBRARY MARKS PAST, EYES FUTURE

The heirs of manufacturer Sigmund Eisner donated his West Front Street mansion to the library, which opened there on April 15, 1937. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Continuing its comeback from a period of drastic retrenchment, the Red Bank Public Library plans a celebration of the borough’s past Saturday with the reopening of the Local History Room, which was put off-limits due to staff cuts three years ago.

The second-floor room’s return to part-time action is one piece of a daylong schedule of events to mark the institution’s 80th year in its home overlooking our beautiful Navesink River.

Children’s librarian Sira Williams, left; adult services librarian Linda Hewitt, center; and library director Elizabeth McDermott, seen last month in the soon-to-reopen Local History Room. Below, a 1970s-era dollhouse replica of the library on display in the children’s room. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

The day’s lineup includes walking tours of historic locations in town; a party for school-aged winners of bookmark-design contest; the reopening of the history room; and reception with refreshments. Details can be found here.

Renewed access to the history room was one objective of a strategic plan completed last year that also called for greater focus on the children’s room and digital resources, said director Elizabeth McDermott.

The reopening of the history room in what was once the demurely separate bedrooms of industrialist Sigmund Eisner and his wife, Bertha, also comes amid a resurgent interest in local history that has been both stoked and catered to by library staffers and volunteers, McDermott said.

History, she said, “has gotten lot of attention, despite the closed door,” largely through digital and online technologies, she said.

In recent years, for example, the library has launched the Historic Red Bank page on Facebook, where some 1,200 followers share old photos, lore and memories. Thanks to the Foundation for the Red Bank Public Library, users now have on-premises access to Ancestor.com, a family-roots search tool that individuals would pay $350 a year to subscribe to on their own. Yearbooks from Red Bank High School and its successor, Red Bank Regional, are available in digital form, courtesy of the Friends of the Red Bank Library, another fundraising group.

In the works for future offerings is a program on fake news: showing information consumers how to sort facts from malarkey in the age of the search engine. “We need to ensure that Google is not the be-all and end-all,” McDermott said.

Meantime, the hard-copy books, photos and clippings in the history room remain invaluable to researchers both professional and amateur, McDermott said.

“The library is unique in the world, in that nobody else has a collection of Red Bank material,” she said.

Library assistant Katey O’Connell-Strollo will oversee the room, which will be open Wednesdays for two or three hours, McDermott said.

Saturday’s events also spotlight the children’s room, which has witnessed rapid demographic changes reflecting those of the borough as a whole, said children’s librarian Sira Williams.

Not long ago, Latino visitors to the room were rare, she said. Now, Latino children and families account for “at least 50 percent” of users, and they often spend hours immersed in the books and other materials housed there, she said.

McDermott said programs that reach out into the community get some of the credit for boosting usage of the facility.

“We’re not inward-looking, just trying to survive,” she said. “We’re now bringing more people in, increasing the staff, increasing the hours, thinking bigger.”

More broadly, Saturday’s celebration marks the 1937 settlement at 84 West Front Street of what had been a somewhat nomadic library operation over preceding decades.

As reported by redbankgreen five years ago, Eisner was an Eastern European immigrant who came to Red Bank as a peddler, set up a sewing machine in a rented house near Broad Street and eventually built an manufacturing empire that employed 5,000 people at its peak during World War I. His factory occupied what’s now the Galleria of Red Bank complex of offices, stores and restaurants on Bridge Avenue.

The factory is included in walking tours, scheduled for 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. They’ll be led by docents Sue Goldberg and Kathy Lou Colmorgen, who will point out places of historical significance.

The celebration follows a comeback from staffing-related cuts that reduced the library’s operations to just 20 hours a week in 2014. They’re now back up to 41, with the possibility of four more, on Monday evenings, being added soon, McDermott said.

The staff now totals 14, with only five full-timers, and McDermott was recently hoping to fill three more part-time positions. Having employees in place is necessary to expand the hours of operation, she said

“We want to be able to never disappoint the public again,” she said.

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