By John Burton
RED BANK – Libraries continue to be an important component in the life of a community, says the borough’s new library director.
Whether it be for traditional “old school” books and periodicals, the increasingly prevalent use of e-books and other material or the variety of services the library provides, public libraries continue to serve a vital role, said Virginia Papandrea, who was recently named executive director of the borough’s public library by its board of trustees.
“I think we’re not going to be disappearing from the world,” Papandrea said.
Libraries are community hubs, providing meeting areas, classes and access to computers and the Internet for those who may not have their own computers, she said. The services offered, most provided for free, have become increasingly important as area residents search for information from government entities, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other sites, in the aftermath of Sandy and use the library as a resource when filing state and local tax returns and for other important necessities.
A recent Pew Research Center survey detailed how a significant number of Americans continue to rely on their public libraries as gateways to information, Papandrea said.
“I’ve been a librarian for a long time. I know where to find stuff,” She said.
For Papandrea, the love and appreciation of libraries goes back a while and grew from her deep affection for books and reading.
“I have a book CD going in my car,” she said with a small smile. “I have books on my bed stand.
“I think a lot of us start in this because of our love of reading and we want to help others and want to share that love with others.”
Currently, Papandrea’s nightstand holds Beastly Things, one of a series of mysteries set in Venice, Italy by American writer Donna Leon, who lives in Italy.
“I really like books set in other countries,” as well as mysteries, she said. “It gives a little insight into the culture.”
The new library director called her choice of career “a fantastic profession, because it combines service to the community with an educational component.” She also enjoys her job because she gets to interact with people from all facets of the community.
Papandrea has been interim director since late October and previously worked as acting director from January through September 2011.
“So, I was very familiar with the library,” when she was named to the post.
Before Red Bank, she worked for the Ocean County library system as outreach director for the Lakewood branch. Prior to that she was library director of the Stony Brook, New York, library.
Papandrea likes “the cultural aspects” of her work, which includes concerts, art exhibits, photography and writers’ and poets’ workshops that are regularly conducted at the library’s 84 West Front St. location. “We’re a cultural venue and there are a lot of creative people here in Red Bank.”
The facility will continue to provide space for activities, research, educational and artistic programs, such as ESL lessons, and one-on-one assistance with computers and other electronic devices. But things will be more difficult this year, as the board of trustees and staff members face the challenge of decreased municipal funding.
Papandrea is looking at a $40,700 reduction from the borough this year over last year for its $671,124 budget. It’s the fifth year the library has seen its municipal contribution decline. Compounding the financial difficulty is the impending retirement of a long-time employee who is entitled to an approximately $30,000 payout for unused sick time and a payment of $47,000 to the borough for employee pension contributions.
The library’s finances are “a significant factor in what we do,” and will have an impact, she said.
The library has had to cut its hours back by nine hours a week for the adult sections and 12 hours for the children’s room. It also has reduced the amount of new materials and technological support it purchases.
“It was a very, very painful” decision to make those cuts, she said.
But the library has been operating for 75 years, so far, with the building donated by the Eisner family, who also established a trust fund to assist in the facility’s upkeep.
The library will continue to be there for the community, Papandrea said.
“If I had a crystal ball, I would say libraries will continue to do everything they’ve been doing, but a lot more of it will be web- and electronic-based,” she said.
A definite sign of the times.