HILLSIDE, NJ — The library in Hillside, after being closed for 22-months through this past May, has been focused on making its presence known this summer, and it’s been doing so with a new director in charge.
Hillside Public Library Director Kassundra Miller said there has been widespread interest in the return of the library since she officially started work in early August. But for anyone who might not know, Miller wants to get the word out.
“There’s a decent stream of people, but I think there’s still a lot of people who aren’t aware the library is open. That’s why I’d like to get the word out. We just started back up with the Facebook page, the website is getting revamped,” said Miller. “Some people do know. There are people coming in — right now it’s like a wave of summer reading students, who need to have their summer reading assignments for school, but I’m starting my fourth week here and I definitely see some regulars coming in, for children and adults.”
Miller was appointed as director by the library’s Board of Trustees, having previously served in the same position at the Wood-Ridge Memorial Library and Wharton Public Library, and her first day in office was Monday, Aug. 10.
For the Hillside library, as well as Miller, it feels like a fresh start that’s full of opportunity.
“It just opened in May, and there are some things I would say are behind, so I’m excited to be here so we can try to catch up,” said Miller, who has worked with public libraries for the better part of two decades. “I’ve worked in circulation, I’ve worked in reference, I’ve worked in tech services. Over the past two summers, including most of this one, I ran summer reading programs, because the library where I worked didn’t have a children’s librarian. So everything I’ve learned in libraries, and every department to this date, will help me here in every way.”
Before working in libraries, including spending 15 years at the Montclair Public Library in various roles — “a great library,” Miller called it — she originally wanted to be a TV or radio writer. She studied English at her undergraduate school, Caldwell College, but also worked at the college’s library as a student employee, and that role ended up being more influential than she expected, said Miller.
“At my undergrad college at Caldwell, I started working in the library as a student aide, a work study student, and that’s where it started,” said Miller. “The library, in my opinion, is the center of the community when there is no community center. But it’s someplace that anyone can go to at anytime, and get the resources they need.”
Fast forward to present day, after part-time jobs eventually led to full-time jobs and now the position of Director, and Miller made the decision to work in Hillside. It’s “a greater opportunity, a larger community, a larger library and a more diverse community” than where she’s worked in the past, said Miller, which is why she made the decision.
Miller is still acclimating to Hillside, but she’s already pushing several fall programs, including National Library Card Sign-up Month. New Hillside residents, said Miller, as well as residents who have never owned a library card can register for a free library card, and all through September it comes with a free bag with goodies.
The Hillside library is also behind a fine-related food drive for September, which is Hunger Action Month, said Miller.
“I’ve done them before, in other libraries,” said Miller. “We’re doing the food for fines. It’s to get people aware that we’re open.”
The food for fines program includes bringing in a donation of food, such as canned goods, and patrons can have fines, new and old, reduced by as much as five dollars.
The Hillside library has its share of strengths, said Miller, including the children’s program. And in the upcoming months, there are a few changes that Miller would like to make, including putting an emphasis on grant writing — something which she doesn’t have much experience with, said Miller — as well as meeting the local Friends of the Library Group, in order to fund more projects.
“The children’s programming has been really well done and well attended,” said Miller. “That’s definitely a strength here. The one thing I would like to get back up and running is the Friends of the Library group. It seems to be inactive right now, and that’s probably partially because the library was closed. I just need to locate people and get it back up and running. That would help us as far as funding, too. Once they start funding, we can use the resources for a lot of different programs.”