Almost all cities and towns in America have at least one thing in common — a public library. Hoboken Public Library Director Jennie Pu says that she will sometimes encounter folks who have moved from other countries and are expecting to rent out books, but are instead astonished at the fact that the books are free to loan out. Still, the public library can often be taken for granted, even though it has several community resources available entirely for free in addition to loaning out books. Hoboken’s public library, located at 500 Park Avenue, right next to Church Square Park, was established in 1890 and has been a staple of the community ever since. Read on to learn more about Jennie Pu and her hopes for the future of the Hoboken Public Library.
A Brief History
In 1884, the NJ General Library Act was passed, and the Hoboken Free Library was the third library to open under the act, after Paterson and Newark. The library was in the basement of the Second National Bank Building and had 3,500 volumes on the shelves — inventory that cost a whopping $3,247.76 at the time. The basement of the bank eventually proved to be an inadequate space to meet the demand of the library and in 1897 the building we know and love today was erected and opened up for business.
A Librarian’s Journey to Leadership
Flash forwarded almost 130 years, and the HPL is stronger than ever — in part thanks to Jennie Pu, who currently sits as the library’s director, a position she takes to heart. Originally from the West Coast, Jennie is a transplant like many Hudson County residents. She resides in Jersey City, just a short bike ride away from her job at the HPL.
Jennie has been a librarian for 17 years, but before that, she was working in the tech industry while living in Seattle. She loved what she did in tech, but ultimately decided that she was more interested in working directly with her community and having a more service-oriented career. It was then that she turned toward library sciences. Jennie has worked in many different types of libraries, including school libraries, medical libraries, and art libraries. She spent time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Library in Manhattan — one of the finest art libraries in the world — and most recently was the Dean of Libraries at Hudson County Community College.
Jennie has fond memories of libraries and books from her childhood. She loved attending book fairs and going to her school library as a kid. Today, one of her favorite things about the library is that they are one of the last surviving free, public institutions in our society. She notes how — even though some may not realize it — libraries are often at the forefront of new technology. Libraries allowed residents access to computers and the internet before they were easily accessible to own at home. Libraries were also heavily involved with the use of social media while it was still in its infancy. Now, they are starting to experiment with how ChatGPT can be used for programs. “The library is how people can get their information. Libraries are the last stronghold in terms of being an open-access democratic institution. Everyone is welcome at the library — it doesn’t matter what you look like, how much money you make, everyone is welcome.”
The Importance of Libraries
Therein lies the importance of libraries — anyone and everyone is welcome. They are community hubs with no barriers to entry. “We provide a safe space for folks who need them, whether you need to study or need a quiet place to contemplate, or need a louder space to hold a storytime event, we are there for you.”
It’s not just about taking out books to read. The library, specifically Hoboken Public Library, is also home to several community events and resources that are open to the public. Looking to learn a new language? Go to the library. Working on your creative writing skills? Take a class at the library. Need internet access? The library has you covered. Don’t have a printer? The library does. Need an ID? Yep, go to the library. Career workshops? Library. Makerspace? You guessed it — library.
The HPL is constantly improving and adding new events and resources that are beneficial to its community members, entirely free of charge for patrons. Jennie Pu pointed out that the staff at Hoboken Public Library can help people overcome barriers that otherwise make living life extremely difficult. Sometimes obtaining an ID is difficult for some residents, and the library has programs in place to help anyone who is struggling to get an ID. They also put on social-worker-led programs that help with professional and financial development. During the winter they give out “Code Blue” kits that have life-saving products such as hand warmers and in the summer, cool-down kits will be available for anyone who needs it. There are also Life-Saving Kits available for free — no questions asked — that contain Narcan and Fentanyl test strips.
What’s to Come for HPL
Most recently, the HPL has been working diligently to open up the new Makerspace on the third floor of the library. The space will have sewing machines, 3D printers, and other maker materials available for use — did we mention this will all be free? The third floor also has a new children’s room, teen space, and a storytime room.
Jennie has nothing but excitement and high hopes for the future of the library and is honored to be a part of the journey. She wants the library to be a true community hub, something of a watering hole for Hoboken. The library is currently going through a rebrand, making the building a bit more colorful and enticing to passersby. Combined with the newly renovated third floor, Jennie is hoping this will bring a whole new audience to the library on a regular basis. “You know when you move to a new place, at least for me growing up, when I moved to a new place what really made it home for me was getting my library card. Like okay, now it’s official. So, I want to continue reaching out to newcomers, letting us know we’re here, and that they can even sign up for a library card online.” She adds that her vision for the library, “and this may be ambitious — but I want us to ubiquitous with Hoboken in the same way the New York Public Library is with NYC. When you think of Hoboken, you think of the waterfront, Washington Street, and I want people to also think of the library. I want it to be a modern community hub, even a tourist destination, a place for people to go see. I think we can get there.”
For more information about the HPL, go to the website and follow along on Instagram to stay up to date with the library’s latest events and resources. Residents can get a library card by going to the library or by applying online.