A lifetime of library service


She started as a maternity leave replacement in 1989 and spent the past 17 years as the boss of the operation – a record of longevity in her workplace.

Now Joan Taub is ready to retire after spending a lifetime in a workplace surrounded by books.

That will happen Dec. 31 when she says she’ll depart as “the longest serving director of the Belleville Public Library.”

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The library board has advertised for a replacement through the N.J. Library Association website and a dozen applicants are being interviewed, according to board secretary Carol Lauer.

A new director is expected to be hired by year’s end, she said.

Taub, who grew up in Fort Lee, earned two master’s degrees, one in English Education and another in Library Science. Starting in the work world at age 22, she had a “short stint” as an educator but quickly switched, working in the reference department, at the Public Library of Leonia, Tenafly and Passaic.

After having started a family, in 1989 she got a call from David Bryant, with whom she had worked at Passaic, offering her a part-time job at the Belleville library where he was then in charge.

Then followed a decade in the reference department before her appointment as director.

“I’d kind of burned out as a reference librarian,” Taub said. “Being director afforded me different areas to go into – it’s like running a small corporation, like being a diplomat, dealing with the public as the face of the library.”

One of the things she’s most proud of is, in fact, is establishing “good relationships with the town, the public, local organizations – keeping the lines of communication open with them – and our schools.

“And providing good customer service – [the library has about 27,000 card-holders] – I want them to get what they need so they come back. That’s why I’ve always emphasized to staff, ‘Have a smile in your voice.’ ’’

Taub offered plaudits to her staff of four full-time and eight part-time employees with having carried out that mission during her tenure.

“And I saw the stuff they were made of during our construction,” she said, “when we had to combine our circulation department and children’s room in very cramped space – which turned out to be three years.”

But it was worth it, Taub said, to finally see the results – the refurbishment of the library space.

“The best thing for me now,” she said, “is now when people come into the library, their reaction is, ‘wow!’, and you hear them say it again and again, now that we have the skylight and can see the original Carnegie façade and the marble steps leading down to the sidewalk.”

There is also the remodeled circulation desk at the front entrance, stacks area and the new stairwell leading up to the second floor. Taub credited the work of architect and onetime library board trustee James Cozzarelli for the re-design.

“We also re-did the children’s room and business office under my watch,” she said. “And I’m very proud of opening our Teen Center.”

Taub said she’d hoped to “include [on-site] parking” as part of her legacy “but it’s tough.”

As for library services, Taub pointed to the library’s diligence in adapting to the digital age. “I come from a long line of library directors who’ve been proactive with technology. We’re now up to date with 30 laptops we lease, 10 new desktop computers in our children’s room financed by Friends of the Library and 10 new desktops in our Teen Center,” she said.

“We’re also ordering more books, more data bases on our website, digital magazines, Comics Plus for teens, Kidspeak (language learning for children), Law Depot (legal information) and SAT E-Prep.”

“Back when I started in Belleville, we used to call Newark [Library] if we needed certain information that we didn’t have,” Taub recalled. “Now you Google it.”

Still, she said, even in the instant-news age, libraries do serve a useful purpose as “guides” to finding the right information. “Not everything is easily reachable,” she said, “and Belleville Library staff are trained to know how to help in that way.”

Extending information to children has always been a big priority, Taub said. Even while construction was ongoing, she said, “we never stopped programming for children. We offer story hours, crafts for kids, ‘Music Together’ for ages up to 4 as an introduction to musical instruments funded by county grants.”

“And now, we’re getting back to Teen and Adult programming. We were one of the first libraries in the state to offer New York museum passes. And we have a big local history archive.”

Still, probably the library’s biggest users are “young parents with children, along with our senior population from whom we get lots of questions about health issues,” she said.

With library budgets tightening statewide, Belleville Library has often turned to its Friends of the Library, its former longtime president Margery Lordi and current president Marie Kimble, for assistance.

“They’ve been our biggest cheerleaders,” Taub said. “They gave us money for our bronze lions, computers, our baby grand piano, our ‘Eight Great Live’ Monday night children’s program with puppets, magicians and lasers.”

“I’m a people person,” said Taub, “so I’ve enjoyed being involved with Belleville residents and I’ve been impressed with their interest in their town. Especially those born and raised here who either stay in Belleville or who go away but come back.”

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