EDISON – In 90 years, the Edison Free Public Library went from one location providing access to 238 books to three locations with access to pretty much everything published and more.
“The library has become a community center for the mind with books, newspapers, movies and vast programs,” Walter Stochel, of the Metuchen-Historical Society, said as he presented the history of the library on Jan. 26 in celebration of the Edison Free Public Library’s 90th anniversary.
Stochel said the first library opened in 1885 in a village of Metuchen when it was part of Raritan Township. However when Metuchen broke away from Raritan Township in 1900, it took the library with it.
In January 1927, a library association opened the first library in Edison with 246 books, which included a Bible published in 1829. In November 1928, there was a referendum to create a municipal library, which was passed by a large majority.
“Having a municipal support library was very important because New Jersey library law requires municipal support to provide funds at certain levels,” Stochel said.
In 1954, voters of Raritan Township voted to changed the name of Raritan Township to Edison.
Now, the Edison Township Free Public Library has three branches — Main, North Edison and Clara Barton, which has more than 40,000 books in its library system.
Library officials including Jane Jiang, library board director, along with township officials, including Mayor Thomas Lankey and Township Council members. and the public came together at the Edison Main Public Library on Plainfield Avenue to celebrate the library’s 90th anniversary.
Shariq Ahmad served as a keynote speaker. He is the chair for the Edison Township Democratic Organization, works for the D-18 legislature – state Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak and Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin – and grew up in Edison.
Jiang said she has been amazed by the library system since she started learning how to read in elementary school.
“Some people say libraries are dying and a library’s director job is dying,” she said.
At the Edison Public libraries, Jiang said they prove the naysayers wrong with the many programs they provide and the hard working staff.
At the celebration Lankey presented the library with a mayoral proclamation.
“I used to go to school next door, Thomas Jefferson [Middle School], and used to come here from school quite a bit,” he said. “[The] library was important back then and has even more importance now.”
Ahmad said like the mayor, he attended Thomas Jefferson Middle School and spent his time at the Edison Main Public Library.
“I grew up in this building. Basically my house was down the street,” he said.
Ahmad said he attributes much of his success in school and now his career to the access he had to the library.
“Libraries serve not just as a place for books to be stored … there’s so much more,” he said. “They are turning from just a place to go look at books on shelves to centers of learning. Libraries have something for everyone.”
Ahmad said access provides opportunities, which is a great equalizer, second to a free public education.
In the state Assembly, Ahmad said there are three introduced bills supporting public libraries.
Assembly Bill 132 requires instruction on information literacy in curriculum of students in grades K to 12. Ahmad said this is one of the ways it could combat fake news and lead students to accurate information.
Assembly Bill 4815 requires appropriation of $750,000 to New Jersey Library Network for continuation of service. Ahmad said the bill helps to defray rising costs of library costs.
Assembly Bill 3801 makes $10.5 million supplemental appropriations for increased per capita library aid.
During the celebration, there were dances in celebration of Chinese New Year and officials also cut a cake to commemorate the 90th anniversary.