Happy 85th birthday to us

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Ocean County Library is about to achieve a milestone in its history.  Eighty-five years ago the library opened its door for the first time to the public.

Here is how it all began.

Following the enactment of a 1920 state law that permitted counties to establish and maintain a free library, a committee was formed to petition the Freeholders to place a question on the November 4, 1924 ballot to establish a library.

The “Committee on County Library of the County of Ocean Council of Parents-Teachers Associations,” led by its chairwoman Mrs. George J. Cameron, presented the petition with 458 signatures.

Nearly 75% of the 6,322 voters approved the creation of the library.

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved a resolution creating the Ocean County Library and a library commission Dec. 2, 1924.  The commissioners were to serve five year terms with the proviso that they serve without compensation.

 The five commissioners included its chairwoman Leila Thompson (New Egypt), William H. Trippe (Point Pleasant), Mrs. George J. Cameron (Whitings), C. A. Morris (Toms River), and E. Moss Mathis (Tuckerton.)  Trippe resigned Jan. 6, 1925 and was replaced by Harold Chafey.

That next year, Sept. 19, 1925, the library opened its doors to the public.  It was located in the Lonan Building, a small cottage on the courthouse grounds.

The library was open to the public one day each week.  Elizabeth Wurtz was its first librarian.  Her annual salary was $2,000.  At the end of its first year the library had a collection of 10,700 books.

That year the library also purchased its first “book car” for $997.77 –  complete.  The mobile library body was built by FitzGibbon and Crisp, Trenton, and was mounted on a Ford Model T chassis.  Two years later the body was mounted on a new chassis and in 1929 it was traded in for a Dodge.

The book cars made regular stops at schools and “stations” to replenish the stocks of books that were dropped off earlier.  These stops were located throughout the county, except for Toms River, Lakewood and Beach Haven which were exempt areas.  The stations included post offices, stores, firehouses, clam bars and even the enclosed porches of private homes. 

During the 1949 summer the library got more daring and parked the truck in strategic points in the resort areas of Long Beach Island and Upper Shores, allowing people to borrow directly from the truck.

Ocean County Library moved to temporary headquarters in the Robbins Street Firehouse then into the east wing of the courthouse in 1950. 

In 1962 it moved to 15 Hooper Avenue, into what had once been a gymnasium for St. Joseph’s and now serves as the Ocean County Probation Office.

“Thirty-five persons may now work at sturdy tables, compared to only six in the East Wing of the Courthouse,” wrote then-Library Director Mariam R. Evans.

The library expanded into the “White House” on the corner of Hooper Avenue and Water Street, then into the Bishop Building in 1978.

It moved to its current location, 101 Washington Street, October 13, 1981.  The building included the former Presbyterian Church of Toms River that served as a meeting room.

To meet the growing demands on its services, the headquarters branch expanded and doubled its size during a four-year expansion program that was completed in 2006.  The improvements included a 250-seat multipurpose room for concerts and special events, a technology training lab, a youth-services area with a story and craft room, a large Teen Zone, a silent study tower, conference and group study rooms, and an exhibit room.

The library became a “system” when it grew beyond the confines of its headquarters and opened its first branch in Long Beach Island in 1960.  Expansion continued.  The Brick branch was opened in 1965; the Point Pleasant Beach library joined in 1967 and Tuckerton library joined in 1972.  New branches were created in Beachwood in 1973, Plumsted in 1974, and Lacey in 1976.

Dover Township (now Toms River Township), along with its Bishop Memorial Library, joined the county system in 1976 when residents approved a referendum to join.

Branches were created in Island Heights and Jackson in 1978, in Barnegat and Stafford in 1980, Berkeley in 1981 and Waretown in 1982.  The Point Pleasant branch opened in 1989 and the Manchester branch in 1990.

The following year the Bay Head Neighborhood Reading Center was open.  A second reading center was created in the Whiting section of Manchester Township March 3, 2007.

The Upper Shores branch in Lavallette was opened in 1995 and the Little Egg Harbor opened in 1996. In 1999 the Lakewood Library joined the system.

The library began automating its services in 1987.

In 1997, in response to the county’s growing minority populations, the library initiated a Diversity Committee to provide active leadership to foster an understanding of the issues the different communities face and to assure a welcoming environment to all customers and staff members.

Ocean County Library now serves a population of more than a half million in 32 of the county’s 33 municipalities.  It offers outreach services to life care centers, Books by Mail and Home Borrowers services for the homebound, and a volunteer program.

Ocean County Library has expanded beyond the traditional library services and now offers its customers access to information through the latest technologies and formats.  It offers more than 90 databases that range from reference locations for homework or business research to small engine repair, foreign-language tutorials, and genealogical tools.

Customers are able to use library computers or their own laptops to surf the Web, search and apply for jobs, and do research.

The library has provided meeting space to government, community service and youth groups.  It has brought in well-known business and political leaders, authors and musical programs for the public to enjoy and hosted community celebrations.

It currently has about 380,000 borrowers and 290,000 bibliographic records in its catalog. It circulated nearly 5 million items in 2009, answered 1,996,878 reference questions and hosted 10,483 programs

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