Submitted by countylibrary on

During our 100 years of operation, many staff and volunteers have brought the library to life, both behind the scenes and in the public eye. Day in and day out, these dedicated employees have served as the building blocks of our success and their contributions have been both noteworthy and vast. Perhaps no contributions are more worthy of recognition, however, than those of the seven librarians charged with leading us through the past century.

Adeline Jessup Pratt was hired to serve as New Jersey’s first county librarian at a salary of $2,000 per year. She assumed her role two months before we opened our doors to the public on October 7, 1921. Born in Philadelphia and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Library Science, Pratt was a charter member of the Tenant Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She brought a wealth of library service experience to Burlington County, previously working for the New York Public Library and Kansas City Public Library. During Pratt’s six years at the helm, she helped the fledgling library in Mount Holly grow and bloom.

Hazel C. Clark was appointed the second county librarian as our collection of books and number of library stations continued to swell. A graduate of Western Reserve University, she worked at the Detroit Public Library and as head librarian in Ocean City before moving to Burlington County. Clark would remain in her post for 29 years, navigating important changes along the way. While the demand for services increased, the library faced economic cutbacks and budget constraints during the Great Depression. School book rooms evolved into school libraries and the need for more space became apparent. During Clark’s tenure, two additional rooms were renovated for library use in the Mount Holly location.

In 1957, Catherine Whister Wetterling assumed the role of library director after Hazel Clark retired. A graduate of the Drexel Institute of Technology Library School, she had worked at Harvard University’s Widener Library, Princeton University Library, Trenton Public Library and the New Jersey State Library. Wetterling would remain in the director’s seat for 21 years and help launch the library in new directions. Notably, she coordinated the move to the former county clerk’s office in 1960, and the construction of the 33,000-square-foot county library headquarters in Westampton that opened to great fanfare in 1971. During Wetterling’s tenure, library services were reimagined to better serve our communities. The first walk-on bookmobiles began visiting areas without library service and the first permanent branch locations were established throughout the county. Cinnaminson (1966), Bordentown (1971), Pinelands (1972) and Evesham (1975) were added during Wetterling’s tenure.

Appointed in 1979, George Brown Jr. led the system through the 1980s, an era of emerging technologies that saw the installation of our first computers and an automated card catalog. Under his leadership, patrons no longer needed to pull open drawers and flip through cards to locate their books. Instead, visitors could quickly and easily find the information on public computers. In 1987, a branch was added in Pemberton and the first expansion of the Burlington County Library began. Completed in 1992, that project included the construction of a new, more welcoming entrance, an expanded children’s area and additional study rooms.

In 1993, Norma Blake moved into the director’s seat. Under Blake’s direction, the system began offering access to the internet, increased the number of computers to 200 and launched its own website. Burlington County Library also became the first public library in the state to feature a café on the premises. An on-site café was thought to be a departure for libraries at the time, but it continued to offer visitors a space to meet while enjoying food and refreshments for decades to come. In 1996, Blake was responsible for launching the Friends of the Burlington County Library, Inc. a nonprofit group that raises funds through membership dues and book sales to support library initiatives. Blake, named NJLA Librarian of the Year in 1999, stepped down in 2001 when she became head of the New Jersey State Library in Trenton. As one of her final acts as BCLS director, she helped unveil a three-year strategic plan that outlined goals for improving library services and facilities. At the time, a sprawling new library was already under construction in Pemberton Township and plans to designate Maple Shade Library a branch were in the works.

Once Blake moved on, Assistant Director Gail Sweet was named to the top post. Sweet had already enjoyed a long career with the system, having first worked in Cinnaminson and Medford before ultimately moving to the Westampton location and becoming director. During her 12 years in the leadership role, Sweet helped BCLS continue to navigate the impact of technology on library services. Under her direction, the system maintained an interactive website, offered patrons the opportunity to download ebooks and equipped the bookmobile with Wi-Fi and laptops for checking material in and out. Our libraries also saw a boost in popularity as hubs of activity, offering diverse events for all ages, including technology classes. In October 2001, the new 18,000-square-foot Pemberton Community Library opened its doors and Riverton Library was added to the system. A renovation project tripled the size of the Bordentown Library and an ambitious plan to expand the Burlington County Library a second time got underway. Sweet retired in 2012 after serving 28 years at BCLS.

Ranjna Das has been leading the way since 2012. A graduate of Rutgers University, she too boasts a long history with BCLS, having served for 19 years prior to being named director. Das began her career working for the Evesham Library as a library assistant and rose through the ranks at the Burlington County Library, managing the library website, catalog software and ebook platform before assuming the top post. One of her initial tasks as director was to oversee the completion and grand opening of the most recent renovation project of the Burlington County Library in 2013. The construction added 16,000 square feet of space, including a 250-seat auditorium that quickly became a popular community venue for culturally diverse, live indoor performances. Das formed the BCLS Foundation in 2015 and has been working in tandem with the system’s various Friends groups and volunteer organizations to support systemwide initiatives. Most recently, Das helped the system navigate new paths, innovating library services during a global pandemic. You can now visit your library to check out tablets, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks as part of our Device Lending Program. As we continue to look to the future, Das will help the library celebrate 100 years of progress and yet another important milestone. This fall, Pinelands Library will move to a brand-new spot in the community. Featuring an updated aesthetic, comfortable furniture and state-of-the art technology, the new space will be located on the first floor of the new Medford Township municipal building.