Happy 75th to the Sussex County Library

May 10 2017 | 02:07 AM

By Laurie Gordon
— Part of Sussex County’s first library was on wheels. In 1942 the county purchased a second-hand bookmobile, and Dorothy E. Henry was the county's first librarian. Henry had traveled 31,804 miles by the end of 1946, and at that time, she designed, planned and supervised the construction of a new bookmobile. It was built on a three-quarter-ton Dodge and was an “outside” bookmobile holding 1,200 books.
That's how the Sussex County Library System got its start. The library has navigated through the advent of computers and many technological evolutions and is now celebrating 75 years of service to the community.
The first Annual Report of the Sussex County Library stated, “In 1942, the year when everyone became conscious of 'books as weapons in the war of ideas,' was the year in which the Sussex County Library came into being. Just as important to the cause of freedom as the physical necessities in combat is a thinking public which reasons why it is fighting and plans for a post-war world. It is the aim of the Sussex County Library to make available to citizens of Sussex County books which will forge the kinds of weapons that will be most useful to accomplish this end.”
On May 15, 1942, the Sussex County Library opened in the basement of the county Hall of Records. It's grown from a 621 square foot room with a plank across two saw horses serving as a desk and about 8,000 books to a library “system” that includes six permanent locations and circulate in excess of 830,000 items annually to residents of Sussex County.
Ellen Callanan is the acting director of the Sussex County Library.
“There are so many important parts of the library's history," Callanan said. "In 1941, county residents voted to establish and maintain a County Free Library. This effort was championed by Ralph Decker. After the first library opened in the basemen of the Hall of Records, the first bookmobile was purchased to service sixteen adult workstations that were established in various parts of the County the following year—the precursor to the current branch system. Bookmobiles remained in service for the next 54 years.”
The library has a vast history. In 1957, the Main Library in Frankford opened on May 28 with a collection of 58,000 items. Additions were completed in 1962 and 1967 which greatly increased the space. In 1964, the Franklin Library became the first branch of the Sussex County Library System. Four other branches followed: Vernon (now Dorothy E. Henry) in 1966, Dennis in 1968, Hopatcong (now E. Louise Childs) in 1969, and Sussex-Wantage in 1970.
Callanan said, “In 1988, the implementation of Interlibrary Loan service gave Sussex County residents access to materials in thousands of libraries nationwide.”
In 1990, the Sussex County Library became a division of County government and the Sussex County Library Commission was disbanded. Later, In 1999, the card catalog was automated, a huge step forward for the library system. Borrowers could easily and quickly see what was available not only in their home branch, but also in all other branches. In 2002, Internet access computers were made available for public use, and in 2003, the first library website was launched, along with six online databases. In 2005, the Sussex County Library joined the Open Borrowing program, giving Sussex County cardholders borrowing privileges at over 70 libraries in northern New Jersey. The next year, the first e-books were made available through a cooperative purchasing agreement with the Highlands Regional Library Cooperative.
“In going through some old photos, we discovered that the original Main Library building was u-shaped with an open atrium. In fact, the picture shows that atrium filled in with snow up to the roof of the building,” Callanan said, “That atrium space was filled in when the first addition was built in 1962.”
Technological advances have affected the library system, in a positive manner, said Callanan.
“Libraries constantly evolve as the world changes and new technologies and formats emerge. The proliferation of computers, smart phones and other devices has expanded the library’s reach beyond its physical walls, as information is now available literally at one’s fingertips at any time of day or night. In the time that I’ve been here, the library has added e-books, e-audiobooks, databases, and e-magazines to its collection, making it simple to learn and to enjoy reading anytime. And there is more to come in the future. Even as technology continues to change and grow, the library’s mission remains the same: to provide information and programs that educate, inform, inspire, and are just plain fun.”
When it comes to library traffic, Callanan said, “Yes, people still visit the library, but not just to borrow books and other materials. They also come to attend our expanding array of programs and bookclubs, to learn how to operate their electronic devices, to get together for study and learning, to work on resumes and search for jobs, and, of course, to read, relax, and have fun.”
She added, “In fact, our program attendance has increased from a total of 8,543 people in 2006 to a total of 13,148 in 2016.”
In addition to offering computers to the public, Callanan said, “We have programs for all ages, including our 'Best Practice' award-winning Read and Play Program, coding classes for kids, Minecraft, 'Touch a Truck,' genealogy and craft programs for adults, and an expanding collection of e-books, e-audiobooks, and downloadable magazines.
As to the future of the Sussex County Library System, Callanan said, “Ematerials and physical books have different strengths. You can fit multiple ebooks and eaudiobooks on a small and lightweight device, which is great for travel, for reading when waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and to have on hand at any time. However, there is something about the tactile feel of a physical book that appeals to people, and there are some types of books, like “Pat the Bunny” and pop-up books, that do not have the same impact in a digital form.” She added, “And a physical book is still accessible and useable indefinitely when the power is out. So I do not see printed materials completely disappearing anytime soon.”
The Sussex County Library’s Read and Play program garnered a 2017 Best Practice Award from the New Jersey State Library. Callanan said, “We are very proud of the staff members (Rachel Burt, Jenise Sileo, and Heather Lubchansky) who created this program and made it happen.” She added, “While the library still has many people visiting in person, it also has people who prefer to visit virtually. In recognition of this, and to make getting a library card as easy as possible, we recently instituted a digital library pass option on our website for Sussex County residents who only wish to use digital resources.”
Callanan said, “We welcome all, and encourage everyone to visit us either in person or through our website at www.sussexcountylibrary.org. Come check us out.”
The public is invited to celebrate this 75-year milestone at each library location. On Saturday, May 13, the flagship celebration will kick off at the Main Library in Frankford from 2 to 4 pm with guest speakers, historic displays, refreshments and a special birthday party for children with cookie decorating and crafts. The whole County is invited, but for those who prefer to celebrate closer to home, each Branch will host an open house the following week showcasing memorabilia significant to each location, and free refreshments for all. Each celebration at the other locations will will be held from 2:00-7:00 p.m and dates are as follows: Monday, May 15, Dennis Branch, 101 Main Street, Newton, Tuesday, May 16, Dorothy Henry Branch, 66 Route 94, Vernon and E. Louise Childs Branch, 21 Sparta Road, Stanhope, Wednesday, May 17, Sussex-Wantage Branch, 69 Route 639, Wantage and Thursday, Franklin Branch, 103 Main Street, Franklin.