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Newark Life

The new Newark library

May 23, 2022 11:21AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

What do a ukulele, a stud finder and a jigsaw puzzle have in common?

They can be checked out at the Newark Free Library, as part of the new statewide Library of Things.

They are also part of major changes at this library specifically – and elsewhere in Delaware.

Planning for a new Newark library moved forward in February when the state announced $4 million in federal funding. Of course, much more money is needed.

New this year at libraries across the state are Tonieboxes, playful devices that tell stories and sing songs to kids.

Delaware’s libraries are also increasing access to technology with Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots that can be checked out and kiosks for confidential digital meetings, like telehealth sessions.

“Libraries are changing a lot,” New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said when the Library of Things was announced in Newark. “We’re helping to redefine what libraries mean to our community.”

Library of Things

The Library of Things – things that are not books and other media – is a new name but not a new concept. “Newark was a pioneer in the Library of Things, in loaning out art prints, Polaroid cameras and vinyl records in the 1980s,” said manager Pam Stevens.

“This project was an idea of the Friends of the Newark Free Library,” said New Castle County councilwoman Lisa Diller, who kick-started it with a $2,500 county council grant. “They are brains behind the idea.”

The statewide Library of Things initiative started in 2018, and the state’s 33 public libraries now have more than 270 different items (more than 830 items, counting duplicates). Thanks to the Delaware Division of Libraries network, most can be transferred between libraries. Some, like the pressure washer in the Library of Things in New Castle, must be checked out and returned there.

The state catalog puts them in seven groups: games and sports; health and wellness; household; miscellaneous; musical instruments; STEAM kits; and technology. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. A guide posted at breaks down the collection and links to the catalog.

Library of Things collections “follow individual libraries’ missions,” said Sarena Deglin, the state’s administrative librarian for emerging technologies. Newark, for instance, has a partnership with Days of Knights, the Main Street game store, which is why it has most of the state Library of Things jigsaw puzzles. And it also hosts live gaming programming.

New Castle – home to America’s oldest continuously operating house and garden tour – this spring set up a gardening-oriented Library of Things collection. It’s also partnering with local garden clubs and the University of Delaware’s Extension for programming.

Tonieboxes, tech and health, too

The Tonieboxes are an idea from state Rep. Bryan Shupe, whose children enjoy them and who convinced the company to donate three for each library. The basic box is accessorized with figurines – such as Mickey Mouse, Elmo and LeVar Burton – that share stories or songs associated with them.

Some partnerships are statewide for the Library of Things, such as for blood pressure monitors with the American Heart Association.

“Each library gets to know their community, but the power of the state connection means everyone can share,” said Michelle Hughes, an administrative librarian.

The Telehealth Kiosk and Device Loaning Initiative includes more than 500 Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots. The initiative aims to bridge the digital divide by helping underserved families access what’s online, particularly homework. Many libraries already have hotspots in their parking lots.

The kiosks are for telehealth visits and other situations calling for privacy and high-speed Internet access, such as job interviews, legal appointments and meetings with government representatives.

“This is the first statewide library-led telehealth initiative in the country,” said Nick Martin, emerging tech and telehealth consultant for the Delaware Division of Libraries. The $650,000 project began in 2021, with Newark scheduled to get a one-person kiosk. Most kiosks hold two, but Newark doesn’t have the room for a bigger version, said state librarian Annie Norman.

Funding for a new library

The idea of a new library got a big boost in February, when Gov. John Carney announced $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for libraries in all three counties. The announcement quoted multiple elected officials on how libraries have grown beyond just books and how investing in libraries means investing in the future.

This quote from Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long is representative: “Our libraries are so much more than a place to check out books. They really are gateways for learning and discovery and allow our communities to come together and access so many vital services.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the central role libraries serve in our communities,” Carney said. Projects receiving such federal funding must enable work, education and health monitoring – and respond to issues created or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

There is $4 million for a new Newark library in the federal program, and Carney is recommending another $4 million in the fiscal 2023 bond bill. Much more money will be needed: the new 27,500-square-foot library Southern New Castle County Library was budgeted at $27 million.

“The Friends of the Newark Free Library will need to raise at least $1 million,” said Judy Taggart, a board member and past president. “We also need to show what the community wants in a library.”

Taggart – also a member of the county library advisory board and the Delaware Council on Libraries – said her wish list includes more parking and meeting spaces for large and small groups.

“Everybody wants a new library,” said Diller. “It’s a multiyear process to get one.”

Your input will be sought

The state Division of Libraries’ latest master plan includes increasing the total square footage of libraries statewide by 50% and increasing flexible and outdoor spaces.

The Newark library, with 26,500 square feet, is called a regional library, along with the libraries on the Kirkwood Highway and in Hockessin. “In the last master plan the consultants were suggesting we start building to 70,000SF!” Norman wrote in an email. “Not sure we’re there yet but I hope Newark can expand beyond current plans for 45,000 to maybe 50,000SF? Still very early in the planning.”

The state will fund up to 50% of the cost of a new library, with the $4 million in federal funding counting in the other half. Money for a new Newark library could come from the county (which runs it), the city, foundations, business and people. “I have no doubt that they’ll raise it,” Norman said.

“We have started a needs assessment to evaluate the need for the project,” said Carrie Casey, the county’s general manager of community services. “No site has been identified, and there will be ample opportunity for public engagement at the appropriate time.”

The current site is walkable from downtown, and that’s a big plus among planners these days. But access by motor vehicles can be awkward because there’s only one entrance (on Main Street, and it’s one-way), Library Avenue is divided, and both roads are often busy. The three acres span from Main to Delaware Avenue, with only a small grassy space st the Delaware end, opposite Newark High, that’s not taken by the building or the 100 or so parking spaces. So a bigger library on this site, with more parking, would have to be a multistory building.

“If they decide to build there, they’ll make it work,” Norman said, and she believes in thinking big about libraries, noting that a consultant recently assessed desires for outdoor spaces at libraries statewide. (Look for a performance gazebo in Rehoboth.) “What we do continues to evolve,” she said. “Space should be flexible because we don’t know what’s coming next.”

Many locations in the past

If the consultants’ ideas are followed, the Newark library could become the state’s biggest public library, topping the Wilmington Institute at 46,000 square feet and the Brandywine and Route 9 libraries at 40,000. A library division website also posts a plan for enlarging the Bear library from 25,000 to 60,000 square feet.

The four buildings that make up the University of Delaware Morris’s Library together dwarf these public libraries. Anyone may enter Morris and use items in it, but most Delawareans must pay $25 a year to check items out. UD students, of course, and students at Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College can check out items from Morris for free.

Newarks’s library has a long history of moves, according to Jane M. Tripp’s “History the Newark Library,” posted on

The first written record of a library in Newark is from around 1860, with it moving among various businesses until 1920, when it settled in the Newark Academy Building on East Main Street.

In 1932, it was made a free public library instead of a subscription library, where users paid membership fees.

In 1957, St. Thomas Episcopal Church at Elkton Road and West Delaware Avenue was purchased and converted to a library. An adjacent house was added as a children’s library in 1964.

In 1969, the Library Commission purchased the library’s current site, with the library dedicated in 1974 and expanded in 2003.

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