The role of libraries and librarians has grown over the years in New Jersey, becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

Libraries have been serving more as community centers where they help connect people with each other and with information, said Jessica Trujillo, president of The New Jersey Library Association.

How have New Jersey libraries always served their communities?

Yes, books and libraries will always go together, Trujillo said. But as a lot of public services have been cut in other places, libraries have picked up the slack.

For example, tax documents are not distributed and printed as much as they used to be. Libraries have stepped up to provide that gap for people, especially those who don’t have access to broadband, internet, and computers, Trujillo said.

The average person has internet, computers, and printers in their house. But many in New Jersey are not as lucky. Others don’t even know how to use a computer or surf the web. She said libraries have been there to help their communities get what they need to participate in civic culture.

During Superstorm Sandy, many residents turned to libraries in New Jersey that had electricity to charge their phones and to get internet access.

When the weather turns cold, libraries are often used as warming centers for community centers and in the summer, they are used as cooling centers.

“That’s been our tradition for the past 20 years or more,” she said.

How did the library’s role change during the pandemic?

The demand for a librarian’s extra skills really ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic when teachers, students, and pretty much everyone, were working and studying from home.

“A lot of public libraries, especially in New Jersey, helped their communities by providing hotspots that library users could check out using their library cards because not everybody has computers at home,” Trujillo said.

Libraries also provided spaces where people could do their telemedicine check-ins on computers. They also helped people find where and how to apply for government assistance programs.

She also found that because libraries have such a focus on serving communities, they are able to pivot quickly to respond to what those needs are at that moment.

Since New Jersey has a history of inequitable services across the state, many residents fared well during the pandemic. But Trujillo said many communities were less resourced so libraries helped.

“We were available to give out free lunches to students because schools were closed. A lot of kids are getting their meals at school and when schools were closed, where did they go? The libraries tried to meet that need gap,” Trujillo said.

Libraries managed to pivot to providing services while they were closed for in-person services. The majority of public libraries in New Jersey provided curbside pick-up and provided more virtual programming to make sure community members were connected to each other, even from home, she added.

What is the future role of New Jersey libraries post-pandemic?

“I think the biggest change I see in libraries is that because we were forced to think of things differently, to respond in ways that were novel to us, that as a profession, we are much more open to re-evaluating how we do things, and why we’re doing things, and making sure we’re meeting our community where they need us to be,” Trujillo said.

The pandemic forced libraries to try new things out and to take a few more risks that they normally would not do.

With virtual programming, many New Jersey libraries did not have that as part of their regular rotation, but now they do. Trujillo said this has opened up a whole new world especially to the homebound to stay connected to their communities.

Programs like chair yoga and other workout routines benefitted those who couldn’t leave the house or who didn’t drive, and virtual storytelling for families with young children who needed some wholesome, educational entertainment.

In New Jersey, there are 234 municipal libraries, 45 associate libraries (not publicly funded), 14 county libraries, and five joint libraries (shared services often connected to a school).

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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