After city closures, Camden to get a new library

Posted: June 01, 2011

Sometime this fall, Camden's youngest residents will be able to walk among Rutgers-Camden students and faculty on their way to the Camden County's newest branch library.

Construction has begun on the basement of the Paul Robeson Library to make room for a 5,000-square-foot downtown Camden branch. County and city officials gathered Wednesday to announce details of the partnership with Rutgers-Camden.

Though a price has not been placed on the renovations, the county will pay for them. Camden City residents will join the rest of county library users in paying a library tax of 4 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation starting third quarter.

The previous, much larger downtown Camden branch on Federal Street was shut in February when Mayor Dana Redd decided the city could no longer afford its 100-year-old system while facing a $26.5 million budget deficit.

The county Library Commission voted to absorb Camden's system, making it the 27th municipal participant. However, the county kept open only the Ferry Avenue branch. A small Fairview branch, shut in September, also remained closed.

As soon as the closure of the libraries was announced last year, county and city officials started brainstorming with Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett on how to provide library services downtown.

"This project is a manifestation that we are a state university," Pritchett said, adding that the library will help connect Camden residents to a higher-education campus.

The county branch will have a separate entrance to the Robeson Library facing Fifth Street. A wall will be built to separate the county portion from the university library.

The county will hire a small staff to run its portion, but county library director Linda Devlin expects a lot of joint workshops and shared services. A big emphasis will be placed best-sellers, books for children and young adults, and job search opportunities for adults.

Some material from the Federal Street branch will be transferred to the new downtown branch, Devlin said.

If county patrons can't find a book or need to access certain databases, they may go around the corner to the university section of the library where the resources are abundant, said Paul Roberson Library director Gary Golden.

A recent $200,000 donation from Washington and George Hill, who are Rutgers-Camden alumni and twin brothers, will allow Rutgers to open a Hill Family Center for College Access. Also located in the library's basement, it will offer SAT preparation classes and workshops for any family on how to file for financial aid.

About 90,000 volumes now occupy the basement. They will all be moved to storage until the university purchases more compact shelving, said university spokesman Michael Sepanic. The second floor of the Paul Robeson Library is being renovated by Rutgers.

"This will be a whole new library," Pritchett said.


Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com

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