The Newark Public Library has anchored the city since 1888. Even though information sharing has migrated into the digital realm, Newark’s brick and mortar library and its seven branches still serve some 10,000 patrons each week providing help with job searches, language and computer classes and family literacy programs. It’s just welcomed a brand new director — Jeffrey Trzeciak. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Congratulations — big opportunity. What’s your vision? What’s the role of the library in society?
Trzeciak: Well, as you mentioned, libraries have changed pretty significantly in recent years with the advent of digital technologies. Everyone knows Google, for example, and everyone knows how to type their search into Google. But the role of the library has not really changed all that significantly. We’re still all about discovering information. We’re all about disseminating information to our communities and beyond. And we’re all about preserving that information as well so that it’s available for future generations in perpetuity.
Williams: What do you do in this urban setting where the literacy, the adult literacy rate is roughly 52 percent?
Trzeciak: That’s a good question and what I would say to that is I’m a new director still figuring out what we’re doing, as well as what we hope to do in the future. But we’re very fortunate here to have the main library and also the branches. There’s a branch in every one of our wards easily accessible to the communities that they serve and they design services that target those specific communities. So really the focal point for those communities is to work with their branch libraries and those branch librarians.
Williams: You just got a donation of Newark’s favorite son — or at least most famous son — Philip Roth. Four thousand volumes, his personal collections have been donated. How significant is that?
Trzeciak: It’s very significant. It’s a very exciting collection. Our special collections — which are very rich already at the Newark Public Library — are really the gems in the collection. They’re the kind of things that are unique and they help us to attract new audiences. So Philip Roth’s collection will really become a destination, not just for Newarkers but really internationally since he’s such a well known author. So it really becomes a way for us to attract others to come into the library. Maybe they haven’t been in in awhile and maybe Philip Roth’s collection will help them to make the decision to come back.
Williams: You come to this urban setting from the ivy covered walls of Washington University just outside of St. Louis. Is that a tough transition from an academic setting to an urban setting?
Trzeciak: Well, many people don’t do it. Libraries and librarians tend to be niche markets if you will and many people don’t make the transition from public to academic or academic to public. I started my career in public libraries working in the Dayton Metro Library when I was very young. It was the first job that I had. It was the first library that I visited — the Electra C. Doren branch of the Dayton Metro Library. I’ve always lived in urban settings and worked in urban settings so after Dayton I lived and worked in Detroit for eight years, Hamilton, Ontario for six years and then as you mentioned most recently St. Louis. I worked at Washington University in St. Louis but I lived in the city of St. Louis.
Williams: When you were there you were part of a group who documented the post-Ferguson, actually created a documentary after Ferguson to capture the information, the media, that was born digital that was taken during the protests.
Trzeciak: Yes, it’s a project that I’m very proud of. We saw an immediate need as librarians. We’re here to preserve information in perpetuity, as you mentioned much of it now is digital so we are in danger of losing some of that information. So we created an infrastructure that would allow people to upload their photos, their music, etc.
Williams: When you talk about information, what you’re really saying is history.
Williams: Do people really think about libraries as preserving history?
Trzeciak: I think they do. I think when we talk to people about what they see as the library’s core function, of course books are always mentioned, but they see us as one of the key cultural arts organizations within the city, one of the key heritage organizations in the city and I think they expect us to play a role in preserving and documenting our history.
Williams: The Newark Library has a million dollar Carnegie grant to digitize all sorts of information. Why is that important?
Trzeciak: Well it’s important because we hold these information resources and they’re unique and they document very important communities within Newark — the African-American community and the Latino community as well. What we’re able to do is provide access to those resources through digitization, preserve those resources as well and make them more widely accessible, not just to our community, but since it’s digital it will be available internationally.