South Orange Public Library 2.0: We Need to Talk About a Golden Opportunity

Residents eager to see downtown South Orange become a more vibrant hub for our community rightly talk a lot about big development plans, re-energizing our retail environment and the promised Village Hall beer garden. The Brown, Davis & Moore for BOT team wants to expand the conversation to a too-often overlooked linchpin in our community’s civic life: the South Orange Public Library.

Great communities always have bustling libraries at their core. “Public” is in its name because everyone benefits from free access to its information, programs and resources. Children first explore the limitless horizons of storytelling in libraries. It’s where these same children come to work on school projects and study with classmates as they get older. Adults take advantage of library computers, learn new skills and participate in talks with authors and community leaders. Residents who work from home find the resources and quiet atmosphere they need. Through the myriad of programs and opportunities at a public library, senior citizen residents discover new passions, rediscover old ones, and revel in the books they finally have the time to read. A community’s heart, mind and spirit resides within its library’s walls.

More than five years ago the Library Board commissioned a study that assessed our community’s needs and outlined the upgrades in facilities necessary to meet those needs. The consultants’ recommendations began with restoring and recommissioning the adjacent Connett library, which sits largely vacant next door. Next, the plan called for rebuilding the interior of the main library to provide flexible, modern spaces. Finally, and most grandly, the plan calls for a  glass structure that would connect the two buildings, serve as the new main entrance and add several small meeting rooms. Plan highlights included:

  • Meeting rooms of varying sizes — our Community Commons — from four-person study rooms to a space where more than 100 people could meet for cultural events.

  • An increased number of computers and well equipped computer training rooms.r

  • More space for young children, including rooms for children’s programming.

  • A distinct space for teenagers and older students.

  • Increased resources for accessing online material, in addition to continuing to provide room for physical books and periodicals.

  • Dedicated space for storing and accessing local history materials — to make the history of our town accessible to everyone.

  • A beautiful restoration of the Connett Library’s interior, for use as our adult reading room

  • The quiet space, online resources, and meeting rooms to meet the needs of residents working from home

It is time to turn that study into a full plan and budget. As members of the Board of Trustees we will make this work a priority — planning not just for the building but also for how we will pay for it through a combination of cost savings and new revenue from redevelopment projects.  

Our new library will become the heart of our community. It will be the place where we all think, learn, grow and work together, and by bringing us together, it will be another place where we build and strengthen our community. The Think Work Thrive Together team will give our library the support it needs to move this plan forward.