Burlington County Library System to mark centennial anniversary with yearlong celebration

The first Burlington County Library opened in a room at the Mount Holly YMCA on Water Street before moving to the second floor of this YMCA building on Paxon Street in Mount Holly in November 1921.

The Burlington County Library System is turning 100 this year and the Burlington County Board of County Commissioners and the library commission are planning a yearlong celebration highlighting its evolution, growth and achievements over the last century.

“For 100 years the Burlington County Library System has been a critical repository of knowledge, community and connectivity,” Burlington County Library System Director Ranjna Das said in a prepared statement. “We want to celebrate this history and the highlight how the library system has evolved over the decades to meet our community’s needs.”

“Burlington County created the first library system in the entire state, and we’re proud of that distinction,” County Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson said in the statement. “The system’s longevity alone is an amazing accomplishment, but the innovation and change that have occurred here is truly extraordinary.”

The Library System began as an idea of three Burlington County teachers who suggested to the state library director that county libraries should be established throughout New Jersey. The idea wound up being championed by New Jersey Assemblyman Emmor Roberts, a renown apple grower in Burlington County and a graduate of Moorestown Friends School, who penned the County Library Law authorizing counties to create their own library systems, according to the statement.

The law was signed by Gov. Edward Edwards on April 7, 1920, but the first library system was not formed until a year later after Burlington County voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to create the first county system by a 2 to 1 margin, according to the statement.

The county system’s first library opened on Oct. 7, 1921, in a room at the Mount Holly YMCA on Water Street before moving to a larger YMCA Building on Paxon Street that same month.

Remarkable changes and growth have occurred over the last century, including the addition of branch and member libraries and the development and expansion of the Main Library in Westampton, according to the statement.

“From its earliest beginnings, the Burlington County Library System has provided a fundamental resource for our communities,” Jonathan Chebra, chair of the Burlington County Library Commission, said in the statement. “Our libraries are more than just a large collection of books, periodicals, records and films, they are places of knowledge and empowerment that help transform lives and build community connections. This anniversary offers us the opportunity to celebrate this legacy and those who have contributed to our libraries’ success throughout the last century.”

To kick off the yearlong celebration, the Library System created a special webpage and timeline that illustrates some of the key points on history that are worthy of recognition and reflection. The online tool allows viewers to get a glimpse of the important people, places and ideas that resulted in the modern, far-reaching library system that exists today.

Throughout the anniversary year, the Library System will continue to take a virtual look back with monthly online articles detailing different parts of the libraries’ 100 years of history, including the formation of the county Library Commission and operations during the early years after the first libraries opened.

Online articles will also introduce readers to the system’s first librarian, Adeline Jessup Pratt and the leaders who followed her, as well as the system’s first “Book Truck” and other innovations from the last century.

The monthly articles will highlight the role the county libraries have played in Burlington County and how the system has expanded and changed to meet the demands of the county’s growing population. They will also show how significant advances in technology have altered library services and helped the system adapt to the still ongoing worldwide pandemic, according to the statement.

The yearlong celebration is expected to culminate in the fall with an outdoor event hosted by the Library System and Burlington County Commissioners.

“The Burlington County Library System’s 100 years of service is a success story that our entire county can be proud to celebrate,” Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell, the board’s liaison to the county Library System, said in the statement. “From its beginning in the YMCA to the adjustments made last year to continue service during the COVID-19 crisis, our library system has managed to evolve and change to meet the needs of our residents. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the library staff and volunteers for their hard work and flexible service during the pandemic. The system’s constant service may sometimes go unheralded, but we know our libraries help make Burlington County such a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.”

For more information on the library’s anniversary, visit www.bcls.lib.nj.us/celebrating-100-years