History of NPML
The first public library in New Providence was established July 20, 1921 by a group of interested citizens who met at the home of Clara Y. Wahl. The new Library Committee elected the following officers: Mrs. Harold I. Spicer, President; Lawrence R. Winchell, Vice President; Anne J. Badgely, Secretary; and Frances D. Wahl, Treasurer.
Money for the purchase of books and other necessary expenses was contributed or secured from the profits of numerous benefits including parties, food sales, movies, and performances of the local dramatic club. The library was first located at 1283 Springfield Avenue in the Red Cross Rooms, approximately across from where the Avenue Deli is now.
The original collection of books was modest. The Library Committee purchased twenty new volumes and borrowed another fifty. By the end of the first year, the collection had increased to 1500 volumes and the free circulation was reported to be 175 books a week.
Clara Wahl was the first librarian. At first, she received no salary, but later she was paid $250 a year, much of which she used to buy books and supplies for her beloved library. Her assistants were all volunteers, and her duties included the building of fires in an old stove that heated the library in winter. Her daughter Frances recalled that the family was once roused from their beds to rush to the library with umbrellas and coverings to place over the books to prevent damage from a leaking roof!
In 1929, the library was moved to its second location at 1310 Springfield Avenue, where it remained for more than twenty years.
When Mrs. Wahl’s many years of faithful service ended with her resignation in 1939, her successor was Margaret Radtke. Finances were always a concern as the budget was always lower than needed and many volunteers contributed their own clerical supplies.
In 1942, the library became part of the municipal government. The Library Committee gave way to a Board of Trustees appointed by the mayor, who was an ex officio member, as was the Superintendent of Schools. Five other citizens served on the board as well.
Post World War II
In 1946, the library celebrated its 25th anniversary. The Borough Council appropriated $1200 for the library that year. Another $176 was added from fines, rentals, and miscellaneous sources. The total number of books was 6268, with 722 registered borrowers.
In the late 1940s, a community fundraising drive was held to build a formal library. As a result, a red brick building on Elkwood Avenue was dedicated in 1950, and it remains part of the current library. The population of New Providence increased after World War II along with demand for expanded library services. The number of books and materials in the collection approached 20,000. Statewide standards of library service at the time called for professionally trained, full-time staff. It became apparent that more room was needed and an addition was built in 1958 under the direction of Betty C. Proctor, who had become Head Librarian after the retirement of Margaret Radtke in 1952.
As the population of New Providence grew, so did the demands placed on the library. The Board of Trustees and the Borough Council recognized that both the space and facilities of the library were inadequate by modern standards. In 1964, the Council appropriated $200,000 for additions to the library. Another $50,000 was obtained from federal funds and used for new construction and renovation of the older parts of the building. Adequate work and storage space, as well as a meeting room for the public, were added. That project nearly quadrupled the available space.
The library was renamed New Providence Memorial Library at the suggestion of the American Legion, becoming a memorial to the residents of New Providence who died while serving in the military during World War II.
Betty C. Proctor was longest tenured director. She was library director for 37 years until her retirement in late 1989, upon which Sandra Rightmyer was named library director.
In 1992 the library suffered serious damage from a fire. While the cause of the fire was undetermined, it started in the oldest part of the building. An outpouring of support from the community and funds from insurance allowed for interior renovations and replacement of library materials.
The library had new leadership again in 1995, when Carol Abatelli became director, followed by director Ann M. Oster in November 1997. In 2001, the front entrance was renovated to bring the entrance and ramp into compliance with ADA requirements and to alleviate a potentially hazardous door system. It was made possible with a combination of Community Development Block Grants and library funds.
In 2001, the library switched from a card catalog to a computerized catalog.
The current library building is the result of a community-wide effort to bring the library into the 21st century. Groundbreaking took place on February 28, 2004 with director Ann Oster and president of the Board of Trustees Betty Metzger present. The million dollar project was funded by State grants, dedication brick sales, wine tastings, road races and walks, local Scout and private donations, proceeds from concerts and plays, and a variety of other fundraisers. It was the largest fundraising project ever undertaken in New Providence.
The Grand Re-Opening was held on July 2, 2005. A major part of the renovation was the expansion of the Children’s Room, a much-needed area for the variety and number of reading programs and activities for preschoolers to upper elementary students. Two meeting rooms were added to enhance the library’s role as a community cultural center.
The Conti Family Room is a large room with a small kitchen, lobby and restroom where movies, concerts, lectures and other library and community programs are held. It was named after New Providence residents and donors Kurt and Gina Conti. The Coddington Room is attached to the Children’s Room and hosts storytime, crafts and other children’s programs, and community group meetings. It was named after New Providence residents and donors Jane and Chan Coddington.
James Keehbler became library director after the retirement of Ann Oster in 2005. He departed for Piscataway Public Library in 2008, at which time reference librarian Colleen Byrne was appointed acting director. The Board of Trustees named Colleen Byrne library director in 2009.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012, the library served as a warming center for those without heat and electricity for almost two weeks. It was a place for residents could recharge cell phones, tablets and laptops as well. In 2017, Colleen Byrne retired, and reference librarian Lisa Florio became interim director. The Board of Trustees appointed Lisa Florio as director in 2018.
In 2019, yearly circulation of library materials surpassed 216,000, including both physical materials and electronic items. Attendance numbers at library programs held that year reached over 7,000.
In 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, the library building was closed to stop the spread of coronavirus, remaining closed for over a month under Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 104. During that time of quarantine, the library provided free access to ebooks, digital magazines and audiobooks, film streaming, online courses, video storytimes and book clubs held by video and phone conference. The wifi remained on for the use of patrons, who could access the wifi from their cars in the parking lot.
The New Providence Memorial Library with its modern, expanded facilities and offerings attracts visitors from out of town as well as its own patrons. It has truly grown into a full-service community and informational center for all.
Revised April 24, 2020