Sunday, April 14, 2024

CDH Library Branch to Use Interim Space in Hope

Library commission meetings are held at the Richard D. Gardner branch of the Warren County Library, 2 Shotwell Drive, Belvidere at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursdays of 2024, except the November meeting which shall be held on the third Thursday. Virtual meeting links will be posted each month on the library website calendar, www.warrenlib.org.

Construction at the CDH branch is underway. The building is expanding over the entry driveway. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 01/2024.

The Warren County Library Commission met for its regularly scheduled board meeting at the Richard D. Gardner Library branch in Belvidere on January 4.

The main topic of the night was the possibility of a new interim space for the Catherine Dickson Hofman Branch (CDH) which is currently closed for construction. According to construction project manager Emily Hammer, construction should be completed in February of 2025.

The interim space in Hope is located in St. Luke’s Church and will be shared with the human services department. The space is around 1,000 square feet and would have room for a few tables and chairs.

St. Luke’s Church has a grade-level entrance in the rear. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 01/2024.

Since the closing of the CDH branch, the library has been using the lobby of the Blairstown municipal building located at 106 Route 94. Since the space is small, there is no room for a new book release cart or computer, fax, or copying use for the public. The library staff has reported complaints from the public about the lack of local library services as a result.

In addition to the lobby being cramped, it is cold in the winter due to its location next to the main door and gets up to 85 degrees in the summer. Previously, a medical office in Blairstown had been considered, but the cost was prohibitive at $4,000 a month. 

Library Director Maureen Baker Wilkinson said the decision to move the interim space to Hope had been made while she was on leave and without discussion with library administrators or staff.

“The fact it is more space and it’s not sitting next to a door [is a positive]. It is a small space but it’s more than what we have right now,” said Baker Wilkinson. “I do have some concerns about whether it will mediate the needs [of CDH users] because we’ve often found that 80 is the dividing point and people don’t come down that far. If they are coming that far they’re almost at headquarters anyway.” 

When asked by a library commission member if the Hope interim space was a certainty, Baker Wilkinson said, “I was told that this was the decision.”

According to research done in December on library use and circulation, Baker Wilkinson reported that statistics showed most users were going towards the northeast branch since the CDH closing in October of 2023.

“In terms of CDH patrons, that’s the direction they’re heading. The numbers are about 1,000 circulations at northeast, but CDH had 5,000 circulations,” said Baker Wilkinson. “That’s what we’re seeing happen right now in terms of people who are actively signed up.”

In addition, she reported that around 200 people had not switched to another location and were using the municipal building, with the number of holds varying from one to 40 depending on the user. 

“It seems that the [users] that have the higher circs or holds on items tend to be homeschoolers,” said Baker Wilkinson. “We’ve also seen a drop in the use of children’s materials. The use of the collection has gone down quite a bit because there’s no browsing. So, it’s working for a few people but it’s not a large number.” 

Baker Wilkinson said she was unsure if the location in Hope would drive traffic down because it’s farther away. 

When asked about the choice of Hope as an interim location impacting the 700 students at the North Warren Regional School District who no longer have walkable access to a library, Warren County Commissioner Jason J. Sarnoski said, “Original plans were being drafted to build this brand new $6 million library for Blairstown but there were no plans made for any temporary sites.”

CDH is fenced off for safety as it is across from the North Warren Regional School District. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 01/2024.

Since money was not set aside, Sarnoski said they had to get creative and had been under the impression there would be more space given in the municipal building. He also said the commission realized the situation was not ideal.

“We don’t want the person [librarian] sitting there freezing during the winter,” said Sarnoski. “We’re making the best of the situation which is certainly temporary. I think those 700 students, when they have a brand-new library in Blairstown, are going to be very happy. Unfortunately, the inconvenience for a great period of time is unfortunate and hopefully, we can accommodate as best as possible.”

He also said that once the CDH branch is completed, “It will be the newest library in the system.” 

Baker Wilkinson pointed out that there had been money allocated in a grant the commission applied to through the state. Sarnoski said that the grant had not been funded and cuts had to be made to make sure that the construction on the CDH branch happened.

Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.