Garrison Keillor once wrote Libraries are mini-temples of Democracy. I love that quote and use it at every opportunity. I have a library addiction and Jersey City’s Main Branch is not just a splendid old building, it is one of the better public libraries in our state. The holdings feature a solid selection of civil war history and music history books and of course, you can use the inter-library loan, which unlike many libraries across the land, is still free. The DVD selection is likewise well-stocked. Jersey City’s Main Branch library is a mecca of downtown democracy.
My favorite place to hang out anywhere is the New Jersey Historical Room, on the third floor. The source of many a blog, you can look up any address in town and unlock mysteries of the past. Vast maps tell their own history of our city. Folders filled with clippings are available for many of the more famous addresses, as well as for places and events shaping our town, are in those folders. If you ever had the pleasure, you know, and if you haven’t, try it – slip your mind through this portal to the past that is simply unique and proves how much research cannot be complete if conducted only online. The New Jersey Historical Room just a great place to spend an hour or two, and the specialists who work there are not only as helpful as possible, they inspire. My imagination is strengthened every time I have something to seek through the old for something new.
The best part of the Jersey City library are our librarians, who are just so nice and encouraging. Their love of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, their commitment to being access points to that knowledge, is simply impressive. I’ve seen them help teen agers trying to get a paper done with the same professionalism and reassurance they’ve handled… well salty old writers like yours truly.
Sandy knocked out the furnaces in the Main Branch. I had to feed my addiction at the Five Corners Branch, which is funky and fun and more than adequate, but smaller and sort of noisy. The hushed tone atmosphere was not as well enforced or respected. The main branch was closed an entire month and I would see some of the librarians working at the five corners and inevitably the talk would be about Sandy’s impact. I wondered how many folders would Sandy finally take – the aftermath is still unfolding so that number is unknown.
But, one chapter is over, the Main Branch has reopened (the heat was working and it was very comfortable). Christmas decorations had been set up throughout the four floors, including a cheerful tree with presents in the lobby, where the children’s library is situated on the Southside of the ground floor. Blue and yellow balloons, tied to the railings, greeted us. The library is opened they proclaimed. Once again you can free your minds by expanding your knowledge.
The library has a policy prohibiting picture taking. It is only allowed if you don’t get caught. That’s why these pictures look surreptitious; they were taken clandestinely.
Better than even the grandfather clock, the fallout shelter sign – what a great old building – is the hand propelled elevator. A free thrill available in few places outside the Jersey City Main Branch library – an elevator operator operated elevator – a bona fide working antique.
I shouldn’t let you take pictures, she reminded me when I took a picture, but don’t take one of me.
Seriously, you tell the operator what floor and they have operate the lift with a handle, often missing the exact level by a few inches, when they then must ease up the elevator, using the handle, as it lurches towards the edge of the floor. You see these elevators in old movies. Now of course, you get in an elevator and push the button to reach the desired floor. Every time I take the Library elevator – and I take it every chance I get – you get a noir feel, like you’ve suddenly put on a fedora and a trench coast, your 38, safe and ready at the side of chest in a shoulder holster. Take it up to the fourth floor and walk down. It’s a unique experience, and one unique to Jersey City and its fabulous Main Branch Library. Welcome back, you were missed.