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After an only slightly hesitant start as two independent association libraries (Navesink, established 1914; Middletown, 1916), the Middletown Township Library appeared almost as a full-grown entity in June 1921 – full-grown in the sense that its form and structure in 1921 continued almost until 1954.
A referendum held in 1920 was readily approved and Middletown had a municipal library to provide services to the fewer than 6,000 residents of the nearly 40 square-mile sprawling township. Service began in 1921 with the Navesink Library, built in 1917 as a memorial to Herman B. Duryea, as headquarters. The Middletown Library, housed in the former Franklin Academy on Kings Highway, was designated a branch. In addition, stations were located throughout the township and a Model T Ford truck was especially outfitted to provide rural service. The book truck, in various incarnation (Model A, 1938 Dodge) served the community until 1942, when it succumbed to war-time gas rationing.
The stations continued to operate almost continuously until 1954, with a few lasting even longer. Middletown provided a pioneering model for rural library service nearly two years before Monmouth County voters (including those in Middletown, incidentally) approved the establishment of a county library.
There were casualties. The stations at New Monmouth, Heddens Corners and Hillside had closed by 1927. But the others – Belford, East Keansburg, Everett, Leonardo, Lincroft, Port Monmouth, Red Hill and River Plaza – all continued into the 1950’s. Locations changed; they may have been in community centers, post offices, fire houses, local stores or schools, but they persisted. In 1931 River Plaza attained branch status and retained it until 1949, when the library moved to the school. In 1942 the Middletown Library was moved from the Academy to the basement of the old township hall, where it remained until 1959.
In 1959, the township acquired the former telephone company building on Kings Highway and, early in 1960, the 3,600 square-foot building opened as the main library of Middletown Township. With this opening, the three remaining stations at River Plaza, Lincroft, and East Keansburg were phased out leaving only Middletown and Navesink.
It soon became obvious that while the Kings Highway building was a vast improvement over the town hall basement, it was only a temporary solution. Middletown’s population, which had grown to over 16,000 by 1950, was nearly 40,000 in 1960. Even before the arrival of the present director, who succeeded Mrs. Walling in 1963, planning was under way for a new building, planned from the beginning as a library.
In the ensuing six years of site searching and discussion of funding, the library had to contend with steadily increasing circulation, a growing collection and inelastic walls. The first solution, a temporary one, was storage of books outside the library. Space which could be leased reasonably was found in a building in Port Monmouth. From this storage space the Port Monmouth Branch, now called Bayshore, evolved, opening for service in June 1966. Recognizing that branch services should be resumed, the Board of Trustees determined that Lincroft, as the most remote unserved portion of the township, should be considered. Space was leased on the second floor of the Lincroft firehouse and service began in November, 1966.
Over the next few years the trustees and staff watched in frustration as federal funds eluded them because of incomplete plans and no definite site. In 1968, however, the climate changed, with the township acquiring a thirteen-acre property at New Monmouth and Tindall Roads. Five acres, fronting on New Monmouth Road were allocated to the library. The Township Committee adopted a $750,000 bonding ordinance in 1969. The elusive $50,000 federal grant that the Board had despaired of obtaining became instead $107,000. Ground was broken in the fall of 1969. There followed a year and a half of excitement, frustration and anxiety. Steel was late in arriving. The general contractor declared bankruptcy. In May, 1971, nearly nine months behind schedule, the building was opened to the public.
By this time the library was extending services to a population of nearly 55,000. A Friends of the Library group, organized to work towards the new library, began book sales which became annual events.
The decade of the 70’s was beginning auspiciously. Too soon, however, “auspiciously” became austerity. The same economic forces that affected the nation as a whole were felt in New Jersey and in Middletown. Rising energy costs and inflation reduced the consumer’s discretionary income and the community’s. Main library and branch hours were reduced in 1975. Fewer books were bought. The municipal budget cap law went into effect in 1977. Most libraries in New Jersey, including Middletown, felt the impact. The libraries continued to buy books and to provide services, but clearly with an eye to the 1980’s and a hope of better times ahead.
Through the 1980’s the library continued to grow and expand the services at their headquarters on New Monmouth Road, and three branches – Lincroft, Bayshore and Navesink. In the 1990’s the library entered the electronics age with a computerized catalogue and CD rom data bases for general interest, health, and business periodicals.
The Children’s department has offered story hours and crafts for the young people of the community and adult programs has expanded to include foreign films, health issues, business subjects as well as art exhibits and special afternoon programs for those who do not go out in the evening.
The library was renovated in 2005, adding additional space for materials and programs. The library has many online resources including online databases, subject guides, and important links. The library also has a web presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.