First known as the Bergen Branch of the Free Public Library of Jersey City, the Miller Branch was opened to the public on January 14, 1914 in a rented building at 543-545 Jackson Avenue. The branch was very well received, as reports The Jersey Journal on January 16, 1914. “That the new venture will be a success is evidenced by the crowds of people who visited the rooms on the opening day. It was impossible to keep accurate count, but the library attendants estimate that nearly a thousand people visited the branch during the first day. The majority of these were, of course, visitors who were merely inspecting the rooms, but the large number of persons who drew out books and used the reading rooms and the reference collections indicates that the new library will be popular in the Bergen and Greenville sections.”
This new library was an immediate success and soon became the largest and most important branch of the public library.
Known for that promise, the Miller Branch has always been a branch known for continually realizing that promise, over and over, throughout its 90-year history. Today, the Miller Branch is still known as the “Jewel in the Crown” of the library’s system. Since 1921, the Miller Branch site has been at its current location, 489 Bergen Avenue in Jersey City.
Within less than 10 years of the Bergen Branch’s opening in 1914, a permanent location was secured and five architectural plans chosen from an anonymous competition, with each winner receiving $250.00. The Trustees Board and the Librarian then chose the winner from the sealed bids, naming Arthur Frederick Adams of Chicago as architect. Mr. Adams, in turn, named his associate, John A. Gurd of New York City as supervisor of the project.
The new building’s dedication, at the branch’s current location of 489 Bergen Avenue, occurred on Monday evening, June 26, 1922 amidst a formal presentation by Library Trustee Alvoni A. Allen, who also served as chairman of the building committee, of the building’s acceptance, which was then received by Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague. New Jersey Governor Edward I. Edwards and Justice William H. Speer of the Hudson County Circuit Court each gave remarks, with Dickinson High School’s orchestra and glee club in performance.
The dedication commemorative booklet described the Bergen Branch as “an immediate success and soon became the largest and most important branch of the Public Library. The rapid increase in readers and the steady growth of the book collection soon caused the rooms to become uncomfortably crowded. Early in 1920 the Library Trustees asked the Board of Commissioners of Jersey City to appropriate money for the purchase of a site and the erection of a suitable building. This request was immediately granted.”
The branch’s architectural design, typical of the day, is known as Renaissance, and was seen as a “plain substantial” design in the commemorative booklet, “built of granite and light brown brick, trimmed with granite finish terra cotta.” Viewing the façade from the 1926 photograph would reveal carved flourishes, in clusters of three, in each corner underneath the cornice, with medallions over each of the six windows. The words “PUBLIC LIBRARY” and “JERSEY CITY” are on either side of the centered words, “BERGEN BRANCH.” With two stories and a basement, including an auditorium and exhibition space, this 86 x 70-foot branch met the fireproof regulations of the day. Where there was wood, it was made of fine oak.
Edmund W. Miller served as Librarian and Board Secretary at the time of the Bergen Branch’s opening. His illustrious library career began with securing the first rooms from The Provident Savings Bank in 1890 that were used to create the Jersey City Free Public Library.
On December 9, 1954, Edmund Miller, at age 87 and a retired city librarian, received the respect due him, as the Bergen Branch was named in his honor. The Jersey Journal, in its December 10, 1954 edition, reported that “Mayor Bernard Berry, speaking at the exercises, praised Miller as ‘one of the outstanding contributors to Jersey City’s culture.’ He related how Miller started the library in 1891 and progressed with it as it grew. He told of Miller’s sterling character and said that everyone who came into contact with him loved him.”
Accolades from then-Library Director William Roehrenbeck included that the renaming was “very fitting” because Edmund W. Miller founded the Bergen Branch.
Within the last 50 years, the Miller Branch Library has consistently produced top-flight programs and special events that benefit the community, burnishing its luster as the “Jewel in the Crown” of the Jersey City Free Public Library system.
As the only agency in our area serving young adults, children and adults, in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, the Miller Branch provides a variety of educational, cultural, informational and recreational activities. Priscilla Gardner, in developing the young adults program when she headed the Miller Branch, petitioned the Department of Personnel to have young adult status added to her title and won the appeal. When Gardner left the Miller Branch to become Assistant Director, she had coordinated over 20,000 young adult and adult programs for the Miller Branch community.
These programs give participants an opportunity to improve or learn skills, attend cultural events, be exposed to wholesome role models in a productive and positive environment. These programs bring youth into the library where they come into contact with books, computers and other resources important to their personal success.
Gardner passed the torch to Branch Head Reneé Moody, who grew up next door to the Miller Branch and is carrying on her legacy at the Miller Branch and the Computer Learning Resource Center.
Miller Branch Computer Learning Resource Center (CLRC) is the first of its kind in the history of the Jersey City Free Public Library and the City of Jersey City. The Gardners – Anthony, Curtis and then-branch head, Priscilla – had the vision, courage and commitment to bypass all obstacles in making this Computer Learning Resource Center a reality, including the doing the interior demolition and erecting of the CLRC in 1994.
Since its grand opening in April 1994, Miller has offered the Computer Learning Resource Center (CLRC) to its patrons and has been well received by the Community. The Miller Branch was the first branch within the Jersey City library system to computerize.
The CLRC gives patrons the opportunity to learn computer basics at their own pace, through individually programmed instruction materials that guide those wanting to become computer-literate. Built around the concept of self-paced video instructions, the Center boasts the latest in IBM- and Macintosh-compatible hardware and a bevy of software offerings. One can come into the Center and study for the SAT, GRE, LSAT, and GED. Other equipment featured by the CLRC are HP full-page scanners; HP laser printers; Internet and Listening Center; and a 27-inch television and VCR, a CD, cassette tape and record player, and a variety of CDs for your listening pleasure.
The Computer Learning Resource Center provides the users with a range of systems skills to compete in academia and the workplace. The user-friendly systems are widely used in publishing, advertising, graphics arts and many other career pursuits by students and professionals. The CLRC is now on-line and the usage is very high. In addition, the IBM Room has a HP Laser Color Printer, full-page scanner, and eight Gateway 2000 computers; four with 21-inch monitors and four with 17-inch monitors. Each PC has its own laser printer. Users of the CLRC have logged in more than 25,000 hours on the IBM computers alone.
In November 1995, Miller Branch unveiled the "MacBret Room" displaying four brand new state-of-the-art Macintosh computers, laser printers, full-page color scanner and two 13-inch TV/VCR combos with cordless headphones to be used with instructional videos. The room’s name (“MacBret Room”) reflected Mac from Macintosh and Bret because of the direct interest taken by former Mayor Bret Schundler, who was instrumental in increasing Gardner’s funding for the Young Adult and Adult Programming.
Innovative programming throughout the year exemplifies Miller Branch community outreach. From stage plays and craft-making from local artists, to lectures and workshops aimed at specific audiences, with particular attention to the young adult crowd, this regional branch honors its namesake.
The Miller Branch is known for its extensive collection on African-American history.
As a special annual treat, Friday evening of Thanksgiving weekend, Soul Generation and Prime perform the best R&B and soul heard this side of holding a valid Library Card from the Jersey City Free Public Library at the Miller Branch Library’s auditorium.
Also housed in the Miller Branch since 1977 is the Community Awareness Series (CAS), which has offered library patrons programs, lectures and workshops that educate the mind and uplift the spirit. CAS was born out of a successful experiment between the Miller Branch Library, its community and the Spirit of Life Ensemble. The Series grew first from a program that stirred tremendous interest, stemming from a group of local artists and musicians affiliated with the Spirit of Life Ensemble, which ran workshops and performed regularly throughout the city. They were the community’s ambassadors.
The Community Awareness Series has offered a broad multicultural array of programs, i.e. theater, music, dance, publications, alternative health, family forums, outreach and exposure projects for special populations, public schools and the general public. Currently, the library department’s programming has consisted of concert presentations and bringing music education to children, young adults and adults. Since its inception, over 3,000 separate programs have been presented at the Miller Branch. CAS also presents two cable Public Access programs, aired weekly: Urban Forum (Wednesdays, 7 p.m.) and Cultural Odyssey (Thursdays, 8 p.m.).