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Virtual History Tour of the Teaneck Public Library
Related Article: New Deal Art Murals at the Library
The modest beginning which eventually culminated in the present Free Public Library of Teaneck started in the latter part of 1913. Mrs. A. N. Jordan, who then lived on West Englewood Avenue, opposite Elm Terrace, received a gift of books from her brother-in-law. As this gift contained many juvenile books and as there were many young boys and girls living in the neighborhood, Mrs. Jordan opened a library in the sun-parlor of her house for these children. At this time, there were only eleven houses on West Englewood Avenue. Soon not only children were making use of the library but adults as well.
As time went on, the request for adult books became greater. To meet the demand, Mrs. Jordan secured the signatures of ten tax-payers, all members of the Women's Political Union, of which Mrs. Jordan was a member, vouching for her responsibility, after forward this to the New Jersey State Library Commission, she was appointed by the Trustee of books loaned by the State. These State loaned books were changed monthly. Harry McEntee, custodian of the Library, took charge of all carting to and from the express office.
The library outgrew Mrs. Jordan's sunroom. It was moved to a candy store and later to a drug store on Station Street. Book circulation was discontinued temporarily in 1916 when a polio epidemic struck the metropolitan area. Churches, schools and other public gathering places were closed. When the women resumed their activities, they found there was more interest then ever in reading. The library was outgrowing the drug store.
The "Library Ladies" soon realized that larger quarters were needed. They incorporated on June 22, 1922, and formed the Teaneck Library Association. Their first act was to purchase the cabin located at 1279 Teaneck Road for $2,000. This cabin, popularly known as the "old slave house," was supposed to have housed slaves who served in the mansion across the road. The building had a large stone fireplace and a staircase leading to a loft. To meet the monthly payments, cake sales, fairs and dances were held. The State loan collection was augmented by modest book purchases funded by contributions.
As the population of Teaneck grew, the Library Association soon realized that the town had outgrown the privately run institution. Benefiting from the growth of property values in Teaneck, the property that had cost $2,000 was sold for $15,000! Delighted with their accomplishment, library devised a plan and presented it to the Township Committee. The Library Association would plan and finance a public library if the township would donate the land and appropriate $5,000 a year for maintenance. The library would be managed by a board representing the Township, the Board of Education, and the Library Association. The offer was accepted, the Township Council agreeing that the library was to be placed north of the Municipal Building.
At a special election on February 14, 1927, there were 179 votes for and 11 against the library proposal. The public referendum authorized the erection of a $20,000 white-pillared brick building. This building was dedicated on November 20, 1927, as a tax-supported library with a $5,000 budget for the year 1928. Miss May Garten was the first librarian. She was succeeded by Agnes Cornelia Norton who arrived from Proctor, Vermont on March 4, 1929. The library then had 2,000 volumes and a part-time assistant. Miss Norton took such a keen interest in the intellectual and civic life of the community that she was named Woman of the Year by the Bergen County B'nai Brith in 1951. When she retired in 1961 over 400 attended a dinner in her honor.
Public response was so enthusiastic that need for expansion was soon felt. Conferences and public discussions concerning plans were held throughout the depression years. In December 1936, two wings, designed by George Cady and financed by federal funds costing $66,000, were opened to the public. These additions included a separate children's room, an auditorium, and larger reading and stack areas. The impressive new main room was enhanced by four murals on the history of bookmaking. The murals were the work of artist Robert Martin. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal institution created to help the nation emerge from the Great Depression, financed the project.
During and after World War II, , as the use of the library increased even more rapidly than the fast-growing population, the need for a larger building was given constant publicity. On May 6, 1952, the Council appropriated $237,000 for two more wings, which were opened in December 1953. Among the special features of the this expansion were a larger children's room and separate rooms for reference, young adults and music. Twenty-five years later, Teaneck's large population and the ever-increasing use of library services once again required additional space. With a grant of federal funds and creative solutions by the architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle, the Township launched the library into another building project in 1979.
Far more important than the bricks and mortar of the library's structure are the resources and services within the library. From a small group of gift books, State Library loans, volunteer workers and the initial infusion of Township support, the collection of books, reference materials and periodicals grew rapidly in response to users' needs under the guidance of a professional staff. Today, videocassettes, compact discs and books on cassette have also become important and popular additions to the library holdings. In 1998, the library ranked as one of the busiest in the entire state.
As an active participant in a 70-member cooperative library system, the Teaneck library further expanded the resources available to township residents to nearly 5 million books and other materials. With a computer catalog, computerized circulation system, a variety of electronic databases and its own home page on the World Wide Web, the library cruises smoothly down the "information highway."
And information comes in all shapes, traditional and innovative: story time, class visits, toddler programs, coffer hours for older residents, concerts, lectures, art exhibits, book sales, even a film series. Nearly 1,200 people a day visit the library for one or more of its services, making it a community hub.
The face of the contemporary library is ever-changing. Electronic resources proliferate, but we see the future of the public library as being robust--a community center where people continue to come to get reading material, see neighbors, and further their education.
Four librarians span almost 70 years of the Teaneck Public Library's existence. Agnes Norton (left) served from 1929 to 1961; Olive Tamborelle (right), from 1961 to 1978; Hilda Lipkin (lower left), from 1978 to 1986, and Michael McCue (lower right), who has been the director since 1987. Mary Garten, the first librarian, held the post from 1927 to 1929.
Teaneck Public Library
840 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Tel.: (201) 837-4171, Fax: (201) 837-0410