Sunday, January 14, 2018

Accidental Libraries

From the library director, Stephanie Bakos:

Before I start this post let me state that no, I do not know when we will be reopening.

As many of you know, BHPL is in the process of relocating to a temporary location for approximately two years while the new municipal complex is being built.  Our current home, a former convent/rectory, is proving as challenging as we expected.  We are dividing the collection (books, AV materials, internet computers) throughout the rooms and scattering tables and chairs wherever something will fit.  It will be a cozy two years.

110 Roosevelt Ave, where the library will temporarily be located.
This entire adventure has made me realize that I have spent the majority of my professional career in buildings that were never intended to be libraries.  East Windsor Library in Mercer County was my first job.  The library was originally the sales office for a housing development.  We joked about having 1.5 bathrooms.  The library was two rooms divided by a utility closet in the center.  The space for children’s materials was a tiny area separated from the main room by a counter holding a fish tank and hamster cage.  At some point the Mercer County Library system upgraded  – East Windsor moved down the street from the sales office and West Windsor moved out of an old church.

Stained glass inside the temporary library
My next job was in an old barracks on Kilmer Campus (aka Camp Kilmer) in Piscataway.  The Center for Urban Policy Research had no insulation and limited heating.  The Center taught me the importance of rehabbing and reusing existing buildings.  However, I am pleased to report that the Center is now located near the State Theater in the middle of New Brunswick.

Finally, I arrived at Plainfield Public – designed and built to be a library. I felt lucky to work in such a lovely, but totally impractical building.  The pool and fountain court on the lower level absorbed noise and provided a soothing background, but added way too many steps to retrieve anything on the opposite side.  One time I had actually had a live otter program in the pool.  It also served as the perfect receptacle for the water leaking through the large skylight.  Also, think twice about designing a predominantly glass building on a main street with truck traffic.

BHPL came next.  The front half of the building dated to 1928 as Mt. Carmel Hall.  A large addition was added to both levels in 1965 and numerous small additions were added over the years.  My office had an interior cinder block wall and closed over window left from moving the entrance.    A stairway to nowhere is hidden behind a door in the Meeting room.  Building codes changed over the years as more attention was given to barrier free access and ADA regulations.

What will be the children's room (photo taken right after the move)
Once again, at some point in the foreseeable future, I will be moving again.  This time it will be to a beautiful, bright, compliant, inviting, user-friendly, and functional new space.  I could use more adjectives, but you get the idea.  It will be an adventure.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Book Group Discusses Carry Me by Peter Behrens

"As a society loses its moral bearings, a childhood friendship deepends into a love affair with extraordinarily high stakes." This is fair summary of the evening book group's selection this month: Carry Me by Peter Behrens, an epic set mostly between World War I and II in Germany.  Since the library is still closed, we met at Dunkin Donuts.

Carry Me follows the lives of Karin, a screenwriter for UFA, the German film company, and Billy, a salesman for IG Farben, a German chemical conglomerate. However, the book begins earlier, with their childhood connection: Karin's father, a wealthy (and, fatefully, Jewish) baron, employs Billy's father to race his sailboats in regattas off the Isle of Wight.  The outbreak of World War I displaces the two families, but what keeps you turning the pages is the dreadful knowledge of what's waiting for them in the World War II years.  As Behrens sprinkles many chapters set in 1938 throughout the book, it's a suspenseful read.

In 2016, Carry Me was one of NPR's Best Books of the Year and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.  The book group agreed that the story was especially resonant given how often we hear about refugees around the world fleeing to safety.  One member also noted that Billy, the narrator, was a very well developed character; and this may be because his story is based on Peter Behrens' father.  You can read the true story of Bill Behrens catching the last train out of Germany, and having to leave his parents behind, in the Peter Behrens' essay "Refugee Dreams" that was published in Granta, and also in another essay "The Last Train Before the War", published in the New York Times.

I found myself wanting to underline passages, as the writing can be beautiful and vivid, for example this diary entry Karin wrote remembering when her family home was a hospital during World War I:

"Our food is gray in war. Turnips, potatoes, porridge. All birds are killed for eating: sparrows, finches larks black crows with black feet. The officers with muddy yellow faces - have been gassed. Some wounds are purple. The nursing sister Zukermann wears pink says it is the most sensible shade, hides bloodstain scarlet would be better but - nursing sisters cannot wear scarlet!  "
Stay tuned to the blog to find out what titles the book group will be reading in 2018. We hope our next meeting will be at the 110 Roosevelt location.