From the outside, the brick front of the Ocean County Library branch on Brick Township's busy Chambersbridge Road suggests a simple building where you can pick up books, access computers or bring children for stories.
But as you step through the sliding glass doors into the library's entryway, you're greeted with a view that draws you into a world of calm, a place where you can get a respite from the hubbub of the life whizzing past on the road outside.
As workers were putting the finishing touches on what has been a five-month renovation of the Brick branch, Susan Quinn, director of the Ocean County Library system, gave Patch a tour of the branch and showed off what she and others hope will be an inviting and useful place for the community.
"People want community spaces," Quinn said, and much of the $1.2 million in work has been done with that in mind, she said.
The branch, which closed May 15, will reopen on Saturday with a grand reopening event. It has been temporarily housed in a space at the Town Hall Shopping Center, which Freeholder Joseph Vicari said proved to be more cost-effective and less disruptive than if they had tried to complete the renovations with the branch remaining open.
The county library system receives 3 million visitors per year, Quinn told the Ocean County Board of Freeholders during a recent preboard meeting in which she gave them a description of the renovations.
Some residents from Point Pleasant Borough, Lakewood and other neighboring towns, in addition to Brick residents, use the library.
About 73 percent of the county's 540,000 residents have a library card. The Brick branch is one of the most heavily used, drawing not only patrons from Brick but from Lakewood and Point Pleasant, too, she said.
For many years the branch was housed in the basement of the Brick Township Municipal Building, down the hall from the township's recreation department offices. But in the 1980s a push began to give the library its own home. Through a cooperative effort between the township and the county, Brick allowed the county to take the property where the library and Forge Pond County Golf Course – which sits near and behind the library – now stand.
"We worked out a plan with Brick to take on that property," Freeholder John Bartlett said, which prevented it from being turned into a shopping center and a 7-Eleven, thus protecting the watershed. "Dan Newman, God rest his soul, was a gem to work with."
The initial agreement was a handshake deal, Freeholder Joseph Vicari said, that later was turned into a formal contract.
The new building opened 22 years ago, and in that 22 years, much has changed about the way people use the library, Quinn said. No longer are people coming there simply to borrow books or research a project; now they come for a variety of services, including courses for job seekers, Internet access for those who cannot afford computers of their own, and so much more.
The renovations included basic items such as replacing worn-out carpet and upgrading the heating and air conditioning systems. But they also included upgrading the technological capacity of the building, which opened in 1990, at a time where the Internet wasn't even a consideration.
Now the entire building has wireless access, Quinn said, so patrons can bring their laptops in and access the Internet, giving them a place to work quietly. New wiring has been installed throughout the building, and a new computer server has been put in place to handle the increased traffic, both from wireless devices and from the branch's own computers. Electrical outlets have been added where possible and all of the furniture has been chosen with the idea of flexibility to the needs and wants of the patrons as the primary concern, Quinn said.
In addition to adding wireless access throughout the branch, there has been a significant increase in the number of computers being installed for patron use. Banks of computers are situated in every section of the library, from the children's area – with lower seats and tabletops to accommodate the smallest patrons – to the reference area where there are computers for research, and computers where job seekers can scan their resumes to upload them online and apply for jobs.
The renovations expanded the available floor space from 18,691 square feet to 22,000 square feet, while staying within the footprint of the structure. Much of the expansion of space, Quinn said, was accomplished by removing a circular staircase that previously dominated the center of the building -- a change that is immediately visible upon entering the building.
Now, instead of seeing the stairway, the view from the front doors goes all the way to the glass atrium-style wall on the back of the building, and its view of the woods that make up part of the Forge Pond site. It is a peaceful view, one that, combined with the interior decor, is designed to make people feel like they've stepped into a different world, Quinn said.
The removal of the staircase has created an open area beyond the circulation desk that could have a variety of uses. But accessing the second floor isn't limited to an elevator; instead, a dual stairway rises along the back wall, its framework designed to minimize obstructions of the view.
"As you climb the stairs, it's like going from the forest floor to the tops of the trees," Quinn said.
Other renovations have included separate areas for younger children and middle school-age students. Teens have their own "exclusive" area, with computers for their use, as well as chairs with desktops on the arms that can be used for schoolwork, for their iPads, and more, or arranged for group discussions. A small conference room at the back of the teen area can be used by teens working on a group project or by a small group needing a meeting space.
Meeting spaces were created in several spots. Opposite the teen area at the front of the building is a larger community room – complete with a refrigerator, microwave and sink – with a tile floor that can be used for larger groups, or turned into two spaces with a dividing wall. On the second floor, there is a conference room that doubles as a classroom, which will allow librarians teaching computer classes to do so without disturbing other patrons – something, Quinn noted, that was a problem in the past. There's also a second study room/conference room available on the second floor, Quinn said, as well as a grouping of chairs and a table at the very front of the library – near the window that looks out at the street and toward Brick High School – that has the makings of a wonderful spot for a book club to meet.
Chairs tucked into corners in various spots invite patrons to grab a book and relax, while table-and-chair groupings offer a place for students needing to spread out a little while working on a project.
"Everything is designed to be easy to move," Quinn said, so that people can use the spaces as best suits their needs.
Clearly one of her favorite spots in the new library, however, is the children's section. Quinn, who began her career as a children's librarian before ascending the ranks of the county's library system, eagerly showed off the story corner created in the back of the building for the youngest patrons.
It is a pretty setting, with yellow and blue carpet squares marking the spot. They were bathed in sunlight streaming through the glass walls in the afternoon, making you want to sit down and enjoy a good story. Nearby, a door on the back wall opened out into an area that evokes the children's book, "The Secret Garden," with a wrought-iron fence surrounding a small patio that's framed by trees and the woods behind it. A spongy outdoor tile covers the surface, making it an inviting place for youngsters to sit and listen to stories on a pleasant day.
"That was the only addition we made to the footprint of the building," Quinn said.
"I think the people of Brick will be very pleased to see the refreshed library," she said.