On May 13, 1889 seven men met in the City Hall office of Mayor Orestes Cleveland to organize the first free public library for Jersey City. These newly appointed library trustees chose as their president the man who had battled for years to convince both the public and the political officials that a municipal library was a necessity. He was Dr. Leonard Gordon, a physician, whose first major task was to file a suit to force the city's Finance Board to appropriate the funds mandated by state law.
With 15,515 books in stock and with no fanfare, the new library opened on July 6, 1891 in rented, gas- lit rooms in two adjacent bank buildings on Washington Street, near York. To go from one part of the library to the other, the public had to go out into the street. Clearly, a new structure was needed, one designed to house a large book collection and to provide seating capacity for a city with a population reaching the 200,000 mark.
Throughout the 1890s the trustees and library staff acquired land at Jersey Avenue and Montgomery Street, hired a supervising architect, Professor A.D.F. Hamlin of Colombia University, and announced a design competition. The architectural firm of Brite and Bacon of New York was selected, contracts were awarded, and, on August 16, 1899, the cornerstone was set in place. On January 14, 1901 the new building, today's main library, was dedicated.
Physical expansion continued into the 1920s, and the main library itself was enlarged. The Depression, however, took its toll by curtailing any additional growth. Throughout the 1970's to the present the library has added services. Additional programming, access to online databases, and the use of microforms, maps, and photographs have augmented the book and periodical collections. In 1989 the library embarked on its second century as a significant Jersey City institution.
In recent years, the most important development in the library has been the introduction of automation. With the introduction of an online catalog, patrons can now search the collection from their homes as well as from a growing number of onsite computer terminals.