Days before the Atlantic City Free Public Library opened its Richmond Branch Library at Ventnor and Windsor avenues, students, passersby and residents of the neighborhood peered into the oversize windows of the new facility, eagerly awaiting the day they could walk inside.
On Feb. 27, members of library's staff had the opportunity to greet each of these guests with a smile, welcoming them, finally, through their doors.
"We are thrilled to be back in the neighborhood," Erin Brown, head of adult services and supervisor of staff at the Richmond Branch said.
And with the construction of a new Richmond Avenue School - which had its official opening in January - came the opportunity for a bigger and better library, Brown said.
"A larger space means being able to fit more in, and that's what this opportunity gives us," she said.
Measuring in at 3,000 square feet, the new library offers fives times the available space of the previous branch, which served the community from 1923 to 2009. During construction, Library Express, a temporary store-front version of the branch on Atlantic Avenue, was open from April 2010 to October 2012.
Brown explained that the new space is meant to be mobile. With book carts on wheels, the space can easily transform into an open area classroom setting.
Eventually, the new branch may offer programming similar to that of its main branch, more than 2 miles down the road on Tennessee Avenue.
The new facility offers more than 12,000 books, audio books, DVDs, magazines and more, including a foreign language section with materials offered in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Bengali and Hindi. Tables house 12 adult computers. A colorfully decorated children's section offers seven computers and one touch-screen early literacy station.
One aspect that has branch supervisor and former Richmond Avenue School student Rick Gerhardt excited is the new branch's ability for extended hours of operation. The library, once attached to the Richmond Avenue School, now sits adjacent to the building, with no access through the school itself. The branch can be opened when the school is closed for the day, he said.
Gerhardt, father to a 2-year-old son, Liam, who already makes use of the library, hopes to make the library feel like a second home.
"The Richmond Library and the school in general was almost like the heart of the community," Gerhardt said. "You wanted to be at the school and at the library when the school was closed. Kids were there just to hang out."
The Atlantic City native recalled the branch's long-time librarian Theda Bradley, saying she was like family.
"We really hope to have that same relationship with the community here and have a first-name basis with everybody ," he said.
On Feb. 27, visitors trickled in, browsing the catalog and making use of the computers.
Atlantic City resident Tracy Balazs sat to play a game of solitaire, with the entire selection of computers to herself.
"I could crawl here," she said, excited to have the branch reopen so close to her home. "It's so hard to get to the main library from here when you don't have a car. We have been anxiously awaiting. It's a nice place to be."
Library director Maureen Sherr Frank anticipated Balazs receiving some company soon, with the dismissal of the Richmond Avenue students next door.
"We are very excited to be returning to Richmond Avenue," she said.
The Richmond Branch Library will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 609-340-0215.
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