The Public Library in Highland Park has been serving the Highland Park community for 95 years, since it first opened its doors in 1922. Established by G. Wallace Conover as the community’s first lending library with a circulation of 20,000 books, the Highland Park Public Library (HPPL) has since then undergone many improvements and expansions. Today, HPPL circulates over 143,000 items, or approximately 10 per capita, which is well above the average for a library of its size. The residents clearly love this aging institution, but some are questioning its ability in its current infrastructure to serve the community with the same vibrancy and responsiveness that has characterized its service for nearly a century.
With a mission to satisfy the varied interests of Highland Park’s residents by providing a welcoming space, programs, diverse collections, and up-to-date technology, the library offers many services for both the young and the young at heart. From a children’s room that includes facilities such as a toy/play area to an adult services area furnished with work tables, lounge seating and internet stations, the library continues to expand its range of facilities in an effort to better serve the town’s diverse community. Located just steps away from the Highland Park High School, the library boasts of a young adult area for teen collections and after-school study space with special rooms for quiet study, computer use and tutoring.
In addition to the library’s databases and online resources that enable its patrons to download E books, learn a new language and access job search tools – all by simply signing up for a library card, the library offers a wide range of programs for all ages throughout the year. These include monthly meditation circles, summer international film festivals, writing workshops, poetry nights, children’s programs and many more. In 2016, the library offered 107 children’s programs with 2,250 participants, 200 adult and community programs with 2,500 participants and 50 teen programs with 866 participants.
“The Highland Park Library is a vital part of our community,” said Jane Stanley, the Director of the Highland Park Public Library. “Borough residents recognize the library as a valuable institution where the entire community finds programs to expand personal horizons and forge community connections.”
The library, however, must respond to the changing community that is very diverse and has increasingly complex technological needs. “In recent years, the pace of change has quickened in the library world, and that has created challenges. An increase in the digitization of content, a dramatic change in the ways people seek information, the advent of new communication technologies, transformations in the publishing industry, the population increase that comes with the recent new housing and a growing population of older people who are choosing to age in place” were some of the challenges the director identified.
“We also face the problems of having to provide library services in a facility that was last updated a generation ago,” Ms. Stanley said.
As the library approaches its centennial, the library is focused on the challenges of its future. “There is no doubt that our library, along with every other library in New Jersey, will change dramatically in the next five to 10 years,” said the director. “Current trends indicate that library use will continue to grow as people continue to rely on libraries for the latest technology, content distribution, and content creation, as well as their expectation that libraries will serve as social gathering spaces, learning and literacy centers, and the place for civil engagement.”
With seven percent of the municipal budget allocated for the library, and discussions for further improvements in the pipeline, the director emphasized the importance of libraries such as the Highland Park Public Library to a community.
“Our libraries are essential for providing access to knowledge. In these digital times they are needed more than ever…..Most importantly, your library is the place where you will get answers to even the most difficult questions.”
Quoting award-winning British author Neil Gaiman, the director noted “ ‘Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.’ ”