Come meet some of the characters who rely on the libraries in one of the nation’s poorest cities.
Camden New Jersey officials have hatched a plan to save the city’s libraries. Mayor Dana Redd is tackling the city’s financial problems by proposing a nearly two-thirds budget cut for the library, so she says it makes sense for the city to join the County Library system.
The main library in downtown Camden means a lot of different things to its visitors.
The inside of the library is a modest space. Rows of gray metal shelves lined with books are ringed with a few tables where patrons are hunched over books and newspapers.
Further back, across from one of those classic “READ” posters featuring Danny Glover, people are typing away at computers some working on resume’s or searching for jobs.
Camden resident Stephen Brown tosses a handful of papers onto a table near the computers. For him, this place is a refuge.
“This is a place where people can learn about computers, read books, come in here and relax and just get away from the things that’s goin’ on in the city of Camden. Especially here in Camden.”
Brown comes here to do things others might take on at their own kitchen tables: he looks at his mail, reads the paper, and relaxes in the air conditioning. But Brown says he likes to come here: he gets to see the same people day after day.
Camden resident Jeanette Martinez is at a table in the Children’s Department reading to her 5-year old daughter, who’s listening quietly and clutching a big stuffed Shrek doll.
“As long as I read to her by the time she gets to school she’ll be interested in school and whatnot…I’m doin’ with her what my mother did not do with us. Because I did not like school, so I want her to go to school, like school, and finish school and do what she has to do after she graduates and whatnot.”
The children’s librarian says she encourages families to treat the room almost like their own house: there are a few computers, tables, and big a green couch next to a giant toy giraffe–across from shelves full of kids books.
In a corner of the main part of the library, three guys huddle around a chess board.
“My name’s Frank Lee and I’m one of the baddest chess players in Camden!”
Lee’s engaged in a playful chess match that’s two-thirds game, one third talk. He was born and raised in Camden and he says he plays here almost every weekday and there are often closer to a dozen players.
“It’s like a home. It’s like a home away from home type thing and we all enjoy it. Checkers are good, but chess is much better and its more complicated. And a lot of the guys that are here, we teach a lot of the little kids that come in here. It’s a few people that passed on they taught us, and they taught us here in the library in Camden.”
Lee talks about how nice it is to have a comfortable place to play, and how kind the workers are, but he doesn’t get distracted from the game at hand.
“See, I’m gonna beat this guy today and next week. And if this library stay open I’m gonna beat him another week from now! Now you got your queen and I got my queen, now bring it!”
Officials say it’s too soon to say if all three of Camden’s libraries will stay open under the new plan.