Plainfield Public Library (NJ)
Contact Information[edit | edit source]
800 Park Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
Appointments are recommended.
Description of Collections[edit | edit source]
Our Local History Collection, one of the largest in Union County, is composed of books, documents, photographs, blueprints, maps, newspapers, personal papers, and local organizations' records of significance in Plainfield and the surrounding communities. In addition to County and State histories, we have publications on the American Revolution and the Civil War. Our unique collections include Local Authors and Diversity Studies.
Our historical collections include Plainfield history, fine art, genealogy, diversity studies, oral history, personal papers & manuscripts, records of local organizations, Jerseyana, and United States history, as well as the original Library collection from the 1800’s. There is also an additional set of books on subjects that support our collections such as photography, art, architecture, and historic preservation.
Reference Books and Family Histories
Our genealogy collection provides one of the library's wealthiest resources, concentrating on New Jersey county, state and regional families. Frequently used sources include genealogies of single families and collective biographies, as well as biographical indexes. Reference material covers emigrants and Mayflower descendants, published DAR records, and biographies of New Jersey residents. Searches are also possible by category of persons or by ethnic group, such as with Guide to Tracing Your African American Civil War Ancestor.
Also found in the Local History Room are a variety of reference titles such as New Jersey Marriage Records, 1665-1800, Abstracts of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots, and more narrowly-focused family histories (all are accessible through the library catalog).
Genealogical Journals and Periodicals
The Local History department holds an extensive collection of genealogical journals and periodicals, as well as the historical local newspaper collection. The collection includes coverage of New Jersey, New York, and New England as well as parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Local Records Projects
Records Index & Transcription
The preservation of records from local houses or worship is an important part of the preservation of Plainfield's history. The First Park Baptist Church was first to lend its late 19th century membership lists and deceased parishioner files for our Church Records project. Mount Olive Baptist Church has loaned two minute books with entries of deceased members dating from 1916, and Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church has loaned an 1844 leather-bound volume of church records. Click here to read an article about the project. The transcriptions will be made publicly available as they are completed.
Another exciting project is the indexing and preservation of the records from the A.M. Runyon / Memorial Funeral Home. These records date from 1903 to 1987. File content varies, but will usually contains funeral and burial information, cause of death, next of kin, and often other family details. The files are currently being processed and are not open to the public, but Local History staff are happy to assist patrons with requests; please contact us.
The Plainfield Collection contains city directories dating back to the 1870s, high school yearbooks back to 1906, family histories, personal papers & manuscripts, organization records as well as books that detail the cultural, social and historical aspects of life in Plainfield. We also are creating a Courier News Obituary Index from obituaries that were published in the Courier News between the mid-1920s to the mid-1980s.
Services[edit | edit source]
We offer experienced reference services to both on-site and remote patrons.
Coverage within the collection is primarily of Plainfield, with additional coverage of the surrounding area. Specific coverage of city directories is outlined here.The Courier News tends to cover Plainfield and its surrounding communities, eastern Somerset County, and northern Hunterdon County, while the other local newspapers have a greater concentration on Plainfield. Generally, coverage of South Plainfield is less than that of the other surrounding communities.
Researchers investigating a person who is known to have been born in Plainfield should be aware that because the only area hospital at one time was in Plainfield, many babies were born here whose families were not Plainfield residents.
The collection offers resources broadly available, such as access to Ancestry LibraryEdition, resources less-widely available, such as the New Jersey State Census for the area and some unique materials. Many of the unique records and collections are identified through the Archival Collections Index, and within the library catalog, here, but additional items are available to researchers with appointments working with library staff.
Special genealogy programs are offered throughout the year. Additionally, we hold a monthly Genealogy Club and a monthly Memoir Writing Club. Each September, we hold a Tri-County History Fair for Middlesex, Somerset, and Union Counties. Colleagues, friends, and neighbors can enjoy a fun day of historical discovery, resource sharing, raffles, and more. Local history & genealogy organizations, museums, and libraries exhibit and promote their collections and programs on the library’s lower level around the fountain. There are two special lectures during the day. This is event is free and open to all.
History[edit | edit source]
The Early Years
The Plainfield Public Library (and Reading Room) was incorporated in 1881, following a March 7th resolution by the Plainfield Common Council. On October 3, 1881, Mayor Lewis V. F. Randolph selected nine gentlemen to serve as the Library’s first Board of Directors. They were: Colonel Mason Tyler (who helped get the Library Act of 1879 to pass through the NJ Legislature), Craig A. Marsh and Walter L. Hetfield (both prominent Plainfield attorneys), John B. Dumont, Henry P. Talmadge, Jared K. Myers, Henry E. Daboll (all New York bankers), George H. Babcock (inventor and manufacturer), and John H. Evans (a New York chemical manufacturer).
The first library was created in rented rooms, formerly occupied by the Y.M.C.A., in which the librarian began to build a collection of books and periodicals. The first public librarian was J. Oakly Nodyne (see below for a list of past library directors), a local justice-of-the-peace who was paid a salary of $150 annually. By mid-1885, the Library offered a small book collection of only 178 volumes. The Library Board then solicited members of the community with fabulous response and within a year the collection grew to nearly 2,000 books.
In 1884, Job Male, a Plainfield philanthropist and the first Mayor of Plainfield, joined the Library Board. He soon offered to donate the land and a library building on the condition that others donate money and art works. The building was completed in 1886 by Job Male and donated to the Library Board of Trustees. In gratitude they named it "The Job Male Public Library, Art Gallery and Museum." The art gallery featured newly donated paintings plus temporary exhibits of other contemporary artists. The museum gallery featured natural history collections of insects, birds, and coin collections. At this time, Arthur W. Tyler, a trained librarian, was hired to organize, catalog, and maintain the collection.
In 1893, Library leader George Babcock passed away and bequeathed the sum of $10,000, as well as some local houses, to the Library for the purchase of “industrial, mechanical, and scientific books” to be designated for the creation of the “Babcock Scientific Library.” This new collection grew to such an extent that the Board, wishing to abide by Babcock’s will, planned an addition to the existing building to be erected. The addition was completed in 1900, and extended the lot up to College Place.
When Col. Mason Tyler passed away in July 1907, he left the Library $10,000, with the stipulation that the investment income be used for the purchase of books chosen by the Library Board. Honoring a personal interest of Tyler’s, the Board selected books that dealt with United States history and Americana – many of which remain in the collection today. By then, the Library’s collection had increased to over 40,000 volumes with nearly 75,000 people visiting each year, and was in need of a larger building. In 1909, knowing that such a project would be a huge undertaking, the Library Board contacted wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie to see if he would consider Plainfield in addition to the other communities he was helping at that time. In 1911, Mr. Carnegie agreed to donate $50,000 for a new building. The Carnegie Building was completed in 1912 and included a large and airy, light-filled Reading Room with a 22-foot high ceiling. There was also a stack room that held 45,000 volumes and a basement lecture room that accommodated 125 people. The Library then occupied all the land donated by Job Male.
Our Present Building
Sixty years later, in 1961, the Library was once again in desperate need of space, as well as repair. While it held the 10th largest collection of books in the state, with a general circulation of the 12th largest and an adult circulation of the 8th largest, the children's’ section was highly inadequate. The plumbing and electrical systems were old and sub-standard, security was lacking, meeting rooms were poorly ventilated, unsafe, and just too small. There was no parking and the basic library facilities could no longer accommodate the needs of a busy, modern-day library. The Library Board turned to the Plainfield Common Council (what later became the City Council) and requested funds for the construction of a new Public Library; their request was ultimately approved.
In 1968, the present 45,000 square-foot building, designed by the architectural firm of Curtis & Davis, opened to the public; the older buildings were razed. The main floor Reading Room was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - a commemorative plaque was hung next to the Circulation Desk. By the 1990's major roof leaks were endangering the building structure and collections. The Plainfield City Council allocated the necessary funds in 1994, but it had become obvious that the roof was only one of the many building problems faced by the Library Board of Trustees. In 1996, the Trustees adopted a long-range Master Plan to help determine the cost and prioritization of major repair projects.
With the intent of eventually creating a new main entry facing Library Park, the Master Plan was launched with the construction of two exterior ramps for handicapped access. In March of 2002, the first major change was made to the library interior with the creation of the climate-controlled Local History Archives. Designed to house the unique Detwiller Collection of Architectural Drawings, the room soon became a repository for other important historical resources, with the donation of the Paul Collier Photograph Collection and the development of the Diversity Studies Collection.
In 2005, outside funding made possible the next series of significant interior changes: the creation of the Literacy Program Offices, three conference rooms, and two study rooms. All of these rooms were carved out of under-utilized workspace and storage space. With these renovations completed, the Board of Trustees launched a Capital Campaign to fund the remaining elements of the Master Plan. With close to a half-million dollars raised from private donors and foundations and an additional allocation from the City of Plainfield, the Library Board applied the funds to the renovation of the Children's Library. After three years of planning and one year of construction, the spectacular rainforest-themed children's space opened to the public in September 2011.
Funding for library improvements and renovations have come from a variety of sources, including the City of Plainfield Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the federal IMLS program and Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG), various State programs, private foundations and private donors.
Past Directors of Plainfield Public Library
2015 to present - Mary Ellen Rogan, current director
1994 to 2015 - Joseph H. Da Rold, executive director
1991 to 1994 - Karen J. Thorburn, director
1990 to 1991 - Martha King, acting director
1987 to 1989 - Stephanie Bakos, director
1981 to 1987 - Thomas H. Ballard, director
1956 to 1980 - Lynniel A. Moore, director
1941 to 1956 - Luke White, Jr., acting librarian then director
1908 to 1941 - Florence M. Bowman, librarian
1888 to 1907 - Emma I. Adams, librarian
1881 to 1888 - J. Oakly Nodyne, first librarian
Tips for Your Visit[edit | edit source]
We welcome researchers to the Plainfield Room. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and appointments are strongly recommended for long-distance visitors. There is no charge for appointments; the process is only to ensure access and service; some rare or fragile materials are available by appointment only. Please call (908) 757-1111 ext. 136 to schedule an appointment.
The Plainfield Room is located on the lower level of the building. Stairs and an elevator can be found to the immediate left inside the main entrance. Opposite them are the public restrooms for adults. After reaching the lower level, proceed past the Young People’s Room on your right, go through the double glass doors, and enter the fountain area. The Plainfield Room (Room 8) is diagonally opposite this entrance.
You will be asked to stow any bags and cases off of the tables within the Plainfield Room. Because the temperature is sometimes cool you may want to bring an additional layer of clothing for comfort.
Laptops and tablets are welcome, but power sources are only available by arrangement, to researchers with appointments.
Wireless internet is available.
Pencils are the only permitted writing implement. In some cases you may be provided with gloves when using archival materials.
There are three public computers and one microfilm reader available in the Plainfield Room.
The room is not available when meetings or classes are held there.
Additional Resources[edit | edit source]