Red Bank’s local sanctuary—its bibliotheca— the Red Bank Public Library, opened on April 15, 1937, as the Eisner Memorial Library, in a converted Victorian at 84 West Front Street that dates back to 1856.
Sigmund Eisner a factory-owner, who, with his wife, Bertha, bought the property at 84 West Front Street in 1906, renovating
it twice in subsequent years. After the death of Bertha in December 1936, the couple’s three sons—Monroe, Lester and Raymond (son, Victor had predeceased his mother)—deeded the property and house to the Borough of Red Bank as a permanent home for the once peripatetic Red Bank Free Public Library, which was created in 1878 as the Red Bank Mutual Library. They envisioned a repository of all things Red Bank where the community could come and experience a bit of Red Bank, as well as borrow books while enjoying the panoramic view of the Navesink.
Before 1937, the library was housed in various locations throughout the borough. “One time there was a fire, and the only books that remained after were the twelve that had been checked out at the time,” notes the library’s director, Mary Faith Chmiel. The library houses a unique New Jersey History Room. On display are historic items including old Red Bank postcards, atlases, reference books, and memorabilia of the Eisner factory on Bridge Avenue—at present, The Galleria Red Bank and, at one time, the largest manufacturer of uniforms in the U.S.—and the family’s strong connection to the municipality. There are also various ongoing displays such as the Deserted Allaire Village and Remembering Red Bank Fire
According to Director Chmiel, one of the on-going challenges is keeping books and materials up to date. “The collection is core,” she explains. “It must be dynamic, contemporary, and have what people want. And we have so much to offer.” Efforts have paid off in the form of rising circulation statistics. Foot traffic has increased as well.
About eleven full and part-time employees oversee the 14,000 square foot facility. Over here are preloaded Nooks and an iPad with apps that includes The New York Times. Over there are eight public computer terminals, four or five laptops, and over 100 periodicals. Downstairs, there are yoga classes, movie screenings, book club meetings, and a busy, updated children’s room.
And there are the books: all 43,502 of them.
There are also various outreach programs, one for Red Bank’s Hispanic community— the library’s Spanish collection is expanding steadily—and another to increase the number of library cardholders. Anyone who lives, works, or pays taxes in town can be a library cardholder.
As far as Mary Faith is concerned, the Internet notwithstanding, libraries such as the Eisner Memorial will always remain relevant. “They’re a foundation of our democracy,” she says, “but they’re also key in the sense that they provide an identity and a community and a core for the people who live in the area. This building’s been here since 1856, the extension from
the mid-1960s. It was here before you, it’s going to be here after you.