By Maddy Vitale
What is the stereotype of a library? Quiet? Maybe even boring, with librarians running around shushing people?
That stereotype is shattered by the Ocean City Free Public Library, 1735 Simpson Ave., which provides an array of activities. It is almost like an entertainment center, with movie night, book clubs, lectures, children’s readings and classes to teach everything from computers, to learning a new language. It is anything but boring.
“The great thing is everyone comes here with a different purpose. There are people coming to get new books and leave,” said Adult Programing Librarian Julie Brown. “There are people doing research, homework, working on their business and using our resources. Some people spend the whole day.”
What makes the library so special are the friendships forged by people who met there, Brown said.
“Many people new to the neighborhood, trying to establish themselves, will come to the library and join a book club, or get involved in other programs, and they end up making friends,” Brown said. “Watching new friendships unfold is one of my favorite things to see.”
Karen Mahar, library director since 2015, who has worked at the library since 1990 and was also the director from 1993-2004, is deeply committed to providing an extensive resource to the community.
Mahar has seen a lot of changes over the years, specifically a growing list of activities offered to patrons, due to the work of her and her dedicated staff.
“We are not trying to compete with anyone. We are enhancing the economy,” Mahar said of the events and activities offered at the library. “People come to the library and maybe drop their kids off at the Boardwalk, to go on the rides or go get ice-cream.”
Mahar said her goal, as well as that of her staff, is to offer so much more than books, but a spot for the community to enjoy, lectures, classes, movies, book readings and more.
“We are all here for the success of the library. We want to give residents something they are looking for,” Mahar said. “We are always trying to provide interesting events. We try to address different age groups from preschool all the way up.”
And you don’t have to belong to the library to attend the events, Mahar stressed.
The popularity of the library is underscored by its membership of 25,000, which is more than twice that of Ocean City’s year-round population. On a typical year, an estimated 275,000 people use the library, library officials said.
Some people were reading and relaxing at the library on a recent rainy, day, sitting in comfy chairs. Some were flipping through magazines or perusing books, while others headed to different meeting rooms for featured events.
Luke Nicholl, 22, of Ocean City, attends Atlantic Cape Community College. He is applying for the nursing program and needs to study daily.
He goes to the library nearly every day.
“It is a great place to go because it is quiet, and I can concentrate,” Nicholl said, from the second floor, where tables are set up near the large windows. “There aren’t any distractions here and it is really nice.”
Melinda Kovacs, of Linwood, was with her toddler Finn, to listen to readings by Children’s Librarian Taimi Kelley in celebration of Black History month. Kovacs is a regular at the library because of all the special activities offered for her and her son, she said.
And for the movie buffs, old movies make Monday nights a great experience, library officials said.
Brown said people actually plan their weekend trips around the programs at the library.
The library can offer so much, in part, because of Ocean City’s large ratable base, Mahar said. It is the third largest in ratables of any municipality in New Jersey. It is not part of the Cape May County library system, but rather, it belongs to the Coalition of Independent Libraries. Other libraries that are a part of the coalition include, Avalon, Longport, Margate, Linwood and Northfield.
Leslie Clarke, assistant library director and bookmobile coordinator, has been working at the library since 1979.
She summed up why the Ocean City Free Public Library is such a success.
“We are very blessed to have a good budget to spend on programming and a great board,” Clarke said. “We are all part of one team here. We want to educate and entertain. We want this to be the hub of the community.”