According to the American Library Association’s State of America’s Libraries Report, libraries are experiencing a shift in their role in society. Visitors are seeing libraries as community anchors and centers for both research and social programming. For New Jersey libraries this means investing in ebooks, faster internet connections, and new programs like national summer reading initiatives to get people into their local libraries. In the Garden State, 43,073,784 people visited public libraries and library systems in 2015. This number is down from 44,828,878 visits 2014 and 45,845,465 in 2013.
To try and raise attendance, in 2015 the New Jersey State Library, an affiliate of Thomas Edison State University, implemented a strategic plan to help the community libraries across the state become more efficient and relevant to patrons. The plan, which is set to be completed in 2018, involves alleviating redundancy in library organizational structures, leveraging funds and developing new statewide funding sources, creating stronger interstate collaboration between community libraries, and promoting transparency in the state library processes and procedures.
In New Jersey, public libraries are organized into four categories: association libraries, county libraries, joint libraries, and municipal libraries. Ninety-eight percent of New Jersey residents are served by a municipal, joint, or county library which are local government units created by a referendum and funded by property taxes. Two percent of residents are served by association libraries, which are nonprofit organizations. County libraries are run by commissions appointed by chosen freeholders, joint libraries are governed by a board of trustees (which includes the mayor, superintendent of schools, and three citizens appointed by the mayor of each participating municipality). Municipal libraries are governed by a library board of trustees, with a similar makeup to joint libraries except with more appointed citizens.
In the state, there are 234 municipal libraries, 45 association libraries, 14 county libraries, and five joint libraries. In some cases, like in Cumberland and Morris counties, municipal libraries can also be part of the county library system. However, Princeton public library, North Bergen Free Public Library, and Cherry Hill public library are not part of their county library system. Municipal libraries that stand apart from their county systems are usually big enough to operate on their own, like Newark, Jersey City, Atlantic City, and Ocean City libraries.
These are the New Jersey public libraries with the highest attendance as reported by New Jersey State Library data. Libraries with multiple branches (county library systems) reported data from all member branches in their totals.
1. Ocean County Library, Toms River: 2,504,362 visitors
With 21 branches across 32 municipalities, Ocean County Library system has 299,806 total registered borrowers (295,512 of those are residents and 4,294 nonresident) and 4,328,138 books in circulation. The library’s official mascot is a pink dragon named Sparks.
2. Somerset County Library, Bridgewater: 1,750,223 visitors
The Somerset County Library system has 10 branches serving 99,245 total borrowers (96,060 registered residents and 3,185 nonresident) and has a circulation of 3,063,866 books.
3. Mercer County Library, Lawrenceville: 1,404,589 visitors
MCLS has nine branch locations and was designated a Star Library in 2015 by Library Journal, a highly respected trade publication for libraries. The Star Library index is a national rating system that assesses libraries based on visits, circulation program, attendance, and public computer use. MCLS earned a five-star rating (one of three libraries in the state to receive the honor) and is the only public library in New Jersey to get the top rating within its budget category. It has 69,864 total registered borrowers (6,6349 resident and 3,515 nonresident) and 1,845,390 books in circulation. Princeton Public Library is not a branch of the MCLS.
4. Monmouth County Library, Manalapan: 1,321,868 visitors
The Eastern Branch of the Monmouth County Library is one of the few libraries in the United States designated as a Federal Depository Library (FDL). The FDL program distributes federal government documents free of cost to certain libraries across the country. These libraries must then offer free, public access to these documents. It has been collecting government publications since 1968 and has also become a New Jersey State Documents Center as well. It has 167,273 total registered borrowers (162,894 resident and 4,379 nonresident) and 3,320,308 books in circulation.
5. Burlington County Library, Westampton: 1,107,694 visitors
Burlington County Library was the first county library in New Jersey. It was started in 1921 in a back room of the Mt. Holly YMCA and now serves the largest county geographically with residents located in 818 square miles. With seven branches and eight member libraries, the Burlington County Library System has 95,135 total registered borrowers (93,415 resident and 1,720 nonresident) and 1,916,269 books in circulation.
6. Camden County Library, Voorhees 939,761 visitors
Camden County Library system lists 96,689 total registered borrowers (88,874 resident and 7,815 nonresident) and has 1,368,608 books in circulation.
7. Princeton Public Library, Princeton: 850,189 visitors
Princeton Public Library is the most visited municipal public library in the state. It first opened in 1909 and moved to its current location on Witherspoon St. in 1966. The library has 31,416 total registered borrowers (26,598 are residents and 4,818 are nonresidents) and 542,061 books in circulation.
8. Atlantic County Library, Mays Landing: 810,746 visitors
Atlantic County Library system has nine branches and 53,443 total registered borrowers (53,186 resident and 257 nonresident) and 1,058,092 books in circulation.
9. North Bergen Free Public Library, North Bergen: 627,000 visitors
The library officially opened in 1936 with 2,630 volumes to serve a population of 40,000 people. Now, the municipal library has one additional branch, 32,359 total registered borrowers (29,879 resident and 2480 nonresident), and 177,117 books in circulation.
10. Cherry Hill Public Library, Cherry Hill: 565,487 visitors
The CHPL is one of the state’s largest municipal libraries at 72,000 square feet. It has 30,187 total registered borrowers (28,785 resident and 1,402 nonresident) and 381,260 books in circulation.