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SECOND FLOOR GRAND OPENING Saturday, March 25, 2017

REMARKS BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR BRETT BONFIELD


I

t is fantastic to see so many people here today. I know that you’re here because you love this library. I hear it all the time and it always makes my day when people say to me, “I love this library. This is such a great library.” Part of my job is saying, “Thank you” to these compliments and part of it is thinking about the question these compliments demand: “What makes a library great?” The people who created modern librarianship had a phrase that helped them answer this question: the spirit of inquiry. It’s what they directed us to inspire within you and it’s what they taught library workers to steward within ourselves. The spirit of inquiry means approaching people and ideas with generosity and discernment. It means, and I’m quoting the poet John O’Donohue here, doing two things: reading books that “stretch your boundaries” and engaging in truly great conversations – conversations that are more than what O’Donohue referred to as “intersecting monologues” – conversations in which you really learn about someone else and, ideally, learn about yourself. The spirit of inquiry also involves asking difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions. So I’ll ask an uncomfortable question. Why did we do this? I’ll phrase that a bit more clearly: Why did we ask you to reimagine the second floor? We were already the busiest municipal library in New Jersey. We could already demonstrate sky-high circulation for the library’s collection of books and movies and music. The number and quality of programs we offer, and the attendance at those programs, is off the charts. We already have more cardholders than residents. This was already a beautiful building, a cherished resource, our community’s living room. Then why ask you to spend months without access to the second floor? Why ask donors to commit millions to this project?


Why ask our colleagues in the municipality to join us in an ambitious undertaking? Why ask our partners at the Princeton University Library to house 30,000 books and let us have access to them so we could deliver them to you upon request? Why did my colleagues agree to work two jobs, making sure the library would continue to serve your needs during the renovation while also making sure the renovation itself would be a success? Two answers. The first answer is general and it relates to first principles. Again, quoting one of the people who created modern librarianship, “The library is a growing organism.” This means that libraries need to reflect the fact that society itself is constantly changing. We can never stop reviewing and improving the methods we use to meet and exceed your needs and expectations. We need to interrogate the collection because the way you interact with ideas and data and art and each other changes over time. And we need to update the library’s physical space when it becomes clear that your needs for that space have changed. The second answer is specific to this community. We have a community that is distinctive and extraordinary in many ways. We are entrenched and we are fluid, small-town and cosmopolitan. We have varied and overlapping access to resources. We are deeply committed to mind and spirit, to nature and industry, to public service and private contemplation, to education and athletics, to science and art and humanities. We are bold and visionary, and we are deliberate and judicious. We celebrate the past and we invent the future. It is imperative that Princeton Public Library’s collection, services, programs, and staff reflect and anticipate this community’s evolving needs. Our usefulness to you should always be apparent, and we should provide value to you in ways that are distinctive and, to the extent possible, both evenly and fairly distributed. Over the past few years it became obvious to us that we could serve you better. We identified several clear needs that were not being met to the extent that you require: (1) Technology instruction, both formal and informal; (2) Support for small group conversation and collaboration and study; (3) Space for quiet work and contemplation; (4) A place to interact with magazines and newspapers, both physical and digital; (5) Spaces that meet your growing needs for presentations and meetings and other mid-sized gatherings.

There was a sixth need as well, a better way to find or discover the books that suit your interests or stretch your boundaries. I’m going to start with this sixth need, the collection, because libraries start with their collections. We believe that the venerable Dewey Decimal System remains valuable, and we have incorporated its best features into our new Neighborhood system. What we have added to Dewey is a level of differentiation, bookstore-like subjects, and these make browsing the collection a more joyful and rewarding experience. If you have ever worked on a crossword puzzle from the bottom to the top, or turned a sandwich over and eaten it upside down, you know that even subtle changes in perception can be revelatory. The shift to Neighborhoods is less subtle than that, and it reflects and promotes the kind of reading experience that your spirit of inquiry demands and deserves. Each book has been carefully considered within the context of this collection and community. They have been shelved with care, among complementary titles, making them a delight to browse both singularly and in aggregate. What else will you see when you explore the floor? You will see places to study alone or together. You will see ideal spaces to conduct business or start a new one. You will see spaces for learning English in order to participate more easily within our community, or learn other languages in order to become a more empathetic and engaged citizen of the world. You will see spaces for reading or writing books and articles. Places to complete assignments, to learn facts and theories and narratives. You will find ideal places to have great conversations, to collaborate, to lead presentations or learn from them. To appreciate art. To contemplate the world around you or your individual experiences within it. To acquire new tech skills or sharpen your existing skills. To invent our shared future. What you will see today in the Reading Room, and only today, is programming. If you need a quiet place to work, we need your patience for one more day. We still have a quiet room on the first floor for your use. After today, the Reading Room will be a glorious place to do the kind of work that benefits from silence. You’ll see what I mean in a moment. First, before cutting the ribbon, we need to thank everyone who made this reimagining of the second floor possible, starting with our trustees, including Mayor Liz Lempert and our president, Kevin Royer, as well as our


elected officials and our partners in the municipality. We need to thank our donors, who collectively funded 92 percent of this project, especially the two angel donors who made this project possible. We were also the beneficiaries of major gifts from the Friends of the Princeton Public Library and others who made supporting this project a priority. Please note the names on the wall in the Reading Room and in the rooms and amenities around this floor, and also take note of the names we have displayed in the Discovery Center. And while you’re in the Discovery Center, please sign the guest book to record your participation in this historic opening. We all owe our enduring thanks to the library’s Foundation. These kinds of projects would not be possible without our strong Foundation and its devoted and visionary leaders. We also owe our thanks to our architects, Andrew Berman and his colleagues, to our contractors, Rob Karabinchak and his team at Tri-Form Construction, as well as the legion of subcontractors, vendors, designers, and attorneys who shared their skills and hard work.

All of my colleagues here at the Princeton Public Library work hard and they put in long hours, and they also work with efficiency and joy. I know you join me in appreciating their expertise and their abiding commitment to customer service. In particular, I hope you will join me in acknowledging Erica Bess and Janet Simon for leading the 2Reimagine project. While these are some of the people who made the 2Reimagine project successful, everyone here today is responsible for making this an extraordinary library. You and thousands of others pay taxes, make donations, volunteer, buy books and other items at the store or cafe, and sign up for library cards. And you also share smiles and other kindnesses with the people you see in the library and, in so doing, help make this a place that every one of us can call our own. If we are going to satisfy the demands of our spirit of inquiry, we need to acknowledge everyone who makes this a great library. That means our entire community and it means you. Thank you for making the 2Reimagine project and this library so successful.

Princeton Public Library Second Floor Grand Opening Remarks  

Remarks by Executive Director Brett Bonfield at the March 25, 2017, Grand Opening of the Second Floor of Princeton (NJ) Public Library, the...

Princeton Public Library Second Floor Grand Opening Remarks  

Remarks by Executive Director Brett Bonfield at the March 25, 2017, Grand Opening of the Second Floor of Princeton (NJ) Public Library, the...