Home Jersey City The Priscilla Gardner Main Library: An Architectural Gem in Jersey City

The Priscilla Gardner Main Library: An Architectural Gem in Jersey City

by Chloe Riley
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As the Jimmy Buffett song goes, “Surrounded by stories surreal and sublime, I fell in love in the library once upon a time.” But, it can be especially hard to find your future spouse if you don’t even know where to begin finding the library. Fear not, library lovers, as the Priscilla Gardner Main Library is a local gem for books, architecture, and perhaps finding your future S.O., too. Keep reading to find out all about the Priscilla Gardner Main Library on Jersey Avenue in Jersey City.

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About the Library

Part of the Jersey City Free Public Library system, the Priscilla Gardner Main Library offers a broad and diverse collection of over 400,000 printed, audiovisual, and electronic resources, specifically curated to meet the needs of the city’s residents. Additionally, the city has invested in updates to the historic building with the goal of providing a welcoming and relaxing environment to learn. And boy are they doing it right! Before getting into the details of the massive restoration efforts, let’s take a look back on how the library came to be.

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The History

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Seven men met in the City Hall office in May 1889 to organize the first free public library of Jersey City. Dr. Leonard Gordon had battled for years to convince the public officials that a municipal library was a necessity and the newly appointed Library Trustees were about to grant him his wish. On July 6th, 1891, the new library opened in two adjacent bank buildings on Washington Street, one of which was the site of the fort at Paulus Hook during the Revolutionary War. Although rich in history, the space was not big enough to hold the 15,515 books in stock and accommodate the growing population. Flash forward 10 years and the Main Branch Library was dedicated at its current location on Jersey Avenue.

About Priscilla Gardner

On September 16th, 2019, the Main Branch library was renamed in honor of Jersey City’s first African-American library director, Priscilla Gardner, who was retiring after 50 years of service. Mayor Fulop said fondly in his State of the City address, “Priscilla recognized its importance, creating a welcoming culture that opened doors for so many people who may not have otherwise had access to books and other educational resources.” Gardner oversaw the main library and nine other branches throughout the city. NJ Advance Media reported that since her tenure as director, registered library card-holders have risen from 30,000 to the 246,000 today. She, along with Foundation Chairman Michael Ryan, also put the beloved new library bookmobile on the road.

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The Bookmobile

The Bookmobile is the library’s traveling branch, providing the residents of Jersey City an additional convenient option to check books out. It features 2,000 rotating books, public access computer terminals, a media station, and restroom facilities. It also has a retractable elevator lift to accommodate disabled patrons easily. The Bookmobile runs five days a week on two routes that cover the entire city and you can find the schedule online here, which is published three times a year {October-January, February-May, and June-September}.

The Renovations

The library is an architectural gem and landmark in Downtown Jersey City. But as the library embarked on its second century as an institution in 1989, you can imagine it is in need of some repairs. And beginning in 2014, major renovations began with the goal of restoring the incredible building’s beauty, while adding function to serve the community for at least another century.

Phase I of the renovation project was completed in 2016 and included the restoration of the exquisite architectural details in the Lending Department, a new elevator, barrier-free access to the Main Library entrance + renovated restrooms, and a new basement sprinkler system. 

Phase II is in progress and includes the continued asbestos abatement and replacement of the windows with historically correct, energy-efficient wood. 

Phase III is slated to include several major upgrades, such as the renovation of the interior staircase and public corridors and a new structure to the rear of the building that will house a state-of-the-art auditorium. Visit JCLibrary.org for the most up-to-date info on the renovations.

Get a Library Card

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Anyone who lives, works, or studies in Jersey City is eligible for a library card. Residents need to bring a photo ID + proof that you live in Jersey City such as mail from the last 60 days {a PSE&G bill, bank or credit card statement, cable bill, postmarked handwritten envelope, etc.}. Students need to bring a photo ID, proof of their residential address, as well as a current student ID, tuition bill, or class schedule. Employees need to bring a photo ID, current payroll stub, or employment ID + proof of their residential address. A library card not only grants you access to the library itself, but the online catalog and a wide range of web-based services, which allow you to borrow audiobooks, eBooks, movies, TV shows, magazines, and more on your own devices.

You can visit the library at 472 Jersey Avenue from 9:00AM-8:00PM on weekdays and 9:00AM-5:00PM on weekends throughout the year. 

Have you been to the Priscilla Garnder Main Library in Jersey City? Let us know in the comments!

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