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This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the August 18, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Princeton Library’s Business Edge

Eighteen million dollars later, the newly rebuilt Princeton Public

Library has transformed itself from a traditional brown box for

circulating books to the glitziest high tech information center

available today. Decked out with tech centers, big screen touch

computers that link in from your office to otherwise unavailable

corners of cyberspace, the new plant bristles with aid stations for

the business person.

On its corner of Witherspoon and Wiggins streets, the library offers

an ample 500-car municipal parking garage, with validation for library

patrons. You walk in the door and instantly notice the enticing cafe

with plush reading chairs. Massive plate windows lure strollers

outside to peek in, while patrons inside view the soon-to-be completed

outdoor reading park. The attractive store hosted by the Friends of

the Library holds an intriguing array of current volumes and reading

paraphernalia. Yet this ambiance, however delightful, is not the best

of it.

The best of it becomes apparent when you approach the booth announcing

"Welcome." Poised here is the ultimate search engine: a veteran

information professional. Not some smiling, idle receptionist, this

individual can give you what you need faster, more thoroughly, and

backed up by more sources than anyone at your home office suites.

Some may look like that old foreboding librarian you feared in grammar

school, and others resemble that young geek who performs software

wizardry at the office. No matter. When their fingers whisk lightly

through the printed pages or over the keyboard, your questions will be

answered. Count on it. And now that it has expanded into three 14,000

square-foot floors, laced with 35 miles of computer wire, the new

Princeton Public affords director Leslie Burger and her 45-person

staff the right tools to do what they do so well.

Tim Quinn is director of public relations, a job that includes doing

all the library’s graphics work. Today, libraries are like small

publishing houses, gushing out endless flyers and papers, not only

informing their public about events, but providing advice on subjects

of interest to library patrons. Quinn, whose past occupations include

a 10-year stint as a Trenton Times reporter, claims long experience

with the public library’s services.

"The real problem is that the business community just doesn’t know

what it’s got here," he says. "We have access to so many business

aids, but working folks still view us as some sort of recreational

hang out."

Search for Yourself. In the new library’s impressive tech center,

white desks are topped by black, formidable-looking Dell computers.

Like little students they all gather round the huge four by two-foot

plasma touch screen looking down at them from the front wall. This big

screen, from its corner computer, can lock the little ones, erase

their images, and in short, control them utterly. To say the least, it

is a startling place to enter.

Yet, as patrons shift increasingly into search-it-yourself mode, the

library itself has changed to become more instructive. Besieged by the

ever-upgrading electronic milieu, folks find themselves owning

machines they can barely turn on, let alone operate. Here patrons can

try out the latest software and gadgets before they buy, and then

learn to get the most from their purchases. This service encompasses

everything from search software to audio-visual equipment to digital

cameras and editing software.

There’s even a course on selecting a digital camera. Bob Keith is one

of three reference librarians who man the technical center. Following

a masters in library science degree from Rutgers University, Keith’s

high tech career included a stint as a website designer, six years

providing customer advice at MacWarehouse, and working reference in

the Ocean County library system. He knows and has played with it all.

In addition to teaching classes for visitors, Keith and the tech

center crew also handle problems over the phone. "It’s fun to walk

some caller through a computer crash and help him get everything up

and running again," he says.

Finding Answers. By phone, by E-mail, or in person, the library will

search out your answers for free. Like most sophisticated libraries in

the state, it is linked to the New Jersey Library Network. If they

cannot answer your question, they will farm it out, and will get back

to you with the results – even if you’re on a business trip that puts

you many area codes away.

Princeton tends to go overboard with its answers, providing large

amount of photocopies of related statistics, with your specific

answers highlighted. Several businesses that have asked for exhaustive

lists and profiles of regional competitors have received as many as 50

sheets of paper in response.

Those wanting to ask a question after library hours can visit the

state-wide website This puts you in touch with a

professional librarian who will chat with you via the keyboard and

work out your problem, 24/7 all year round.

Reference director Elba Barzelatto has served in the Princeton Public

Library for 19 years, coming from New York Public. She oversees a

10-librarian reference staff, including 20-year veteran Barbara

Silberstein. Both women have noticed that the nature of questions has

changed in the wake of the Internet. "People more frequently ask for a

contact to give them the answer, than for us to find the answer

outright," says Barzelatto. For the self searcher, Princeton Public

LIbrary is now particularly accommodating, offering scores of


One of reference director Barzelatto’s greatest fears is the quality

of information browsers are getting online. To help build better

searches, the library offers a "How to Use Google" course (U.S. 1,

August 11). It also offers courses explaining the ‘Net in basic terms,

as well as in very advanced terms.

SAM in the stacks. Princeton Public LIbrary currently houses over 100

computers for public access – a near tripling of the number in the old

building. Linked by the Smart Access Management (SAM) computer

software, these include a whole bank of 15-minute open use machines on

the first floor and a section of 30-minute stations on the second,

plus extended use computers in special areas. The short term stations

are ideal for a quick E-mail check and demand no library card.

Library cardholders may sign up free for the extended use computers.

Cards may be obtained at no charge by any resident or business paying

taxes in the town. While out of area businesses must pay $200 a year

for a card, full computer access costs non-residents only $25 for six


Those bringing laptops to the library will find that literally every

table has a 10-megabyte dataport connection. If you forgotten your

cable, one will be provided for a refundable deposit, and if you have

forgotten how to work your own laptop, staff experts in Mac and PC

will help get you going.

From your armchair. Probably the greatest technological leap coming

out of the new Princeton library is its ability to set up a branch

right in your office. With a few clicks, you can flash onto your own

PC screen dozens of databases and library files unavailable on the

open ‘Net. Princeton University has given the public library a feed,

enabling patrons to browse everything it has stored online.

Expensive subscriber databases can also be accessed right from the

office or from home. By simply going to the

and typing in your card, you can directly click to whole list of vital

sites such as EBSCO. An important business tool, EBSCO provides an

exhaustively cross-indexed database of periodicals which can pop onto

your screen or into your printer at home. Unfortunately, not all

library databases are office accessible, notable among these being

Reference USA and Factiva (the old Dow Jones business listing), both

of which offer excellent corporate and fiscal profiles.

Over 65,000 visitors came through the doors of the new Princeton

Public Library in July. Today about another 2,200 will enter, seeking

a few drops from the information ocean, some recreational reading, or

perhaps just a cool place to chat with a friend. In each case, the

ultimate search engines labor to give the people what they need.

Yet even after construction, services change, and will continue to

change. There is a special business resource section planned for the

tower section. Quinn speaks of a day when patrons will be able to take

a seat at a computer station at any time and plug into an interactive

program to learn how to use a full range of software programs on their

own, and on their own schedules.

As noted by historian Augustine Birrell, "Great Libraries are not

made; they grow."

Bart Jackson, a frequent contributor to U.S. 1, has more

than a passing knowledge of librarians and their mission. His wife is

Lorraine Jackson, director of the South Brunswick Public Library.

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