June 20, 2019 | 75° F

New Brunswick Public Library offers more than just books

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

Sometimes when we’re traveling around campus on the infamous Rutgers buses, those air-conditioned boxes limit how much of New Brunswick we really see. Truth is, there is much more to this town than Rutgers.

In a place as diverse as New Brunswick, it can be hard to fit into the community. The New Brunswick Public Free Library recognizes the potential of this unique community and tries its best to cater to the neighborhood’s needs.

Library Director Robert Belvin has made this beautiful building a home to people of all ages.

“We’re here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to celebrate the diversity of New Brunswick and educate people about other cultures," he said. "We try to have a lot of activities because we're a very diverse community so there’s a lot of possible things for us to do.”

Every year at the Indian Holi festival, for example, people of other races are all doused in color to celebrate Indian culture. He said it’s a beautiful sight which represents the cultural appreciation that the library tries to promote through its programs.

The library enforces not only cultural diversity but also embracing one's roots.

This Sunday, the library is hosting a "Day of the Dead" event, a traditional Mexican holiday, as an attempt to reach out to the Hispanic community. 

Every year there is also a Diwali festival that the library does with the Rutgers Indian Graduate Student Association.

Belvin said that they promote these events “to help people self-improve and just guide them towards leading better lives."

One of the activities that takes place at the library is sewing classes. Belvin said there are a lot of people in New Brunswick who know how to sew but don't have sewing machines. The classes not only provide people with the necessary equipment, but also teach people how to sew.

"If somebody can sew, the can save a lot of money on alterations, and maybe even make some money by providing this service to other people," he said.

Another focus on the New Brunswick Public Free Library is education.

With a large collection of books, online and offline archives, computers and other resources, this library is like any other you’ll come across. But what sets Belvin and his faculty apart is that they take the initiative to teach all those who walk through the double-gated doors.

From providing tutors through the Rutgers' work-study program to age group activities with designated homework and play times, the library not only helps children but also entire families.

"A lot of kids who come here are the first in their families to go to school. So in addition to providing an environment where they can study, the children are also exposed to competent tutors who want to help, which makes a big difference," Belvin said.

In accordance with its goals of catering to the needs of this specific community, the library also regularly implements conversation cafes or sessions for people who aren't fluent English speakers.

"The Rutgers Graduate School of Education provides us with students who are training to be professional educators. This way, our patrons benefit with being taught by all these nice enthusiastic students, who in turn try their hardest to provide a good learning experience," he said.

The Public Library also serves as a channel to form connections by collaborating with the Rutgers Graduate School of Social Work to provide students with social services.

The library is the only one in the state which administers municipal identification cards. These cards can serve as identity cards, not only for undocumented immigrants but anyone who does not possess formal identification, including senior citizens.

Malaika Jawed

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