Since 1972, Biblioteca Criolla at the Jersey City Free Public Library has been New Jersey’s largest public library collection dedicated exclusively to Spanish-language works, and to presenting Latino culture from all Spanish-speaking nationalities. In addition to maintaining an extensive, up-to-date collection of original and translated works in Spanish, Biblioteca Criolla provides the community with a wide variety of cultural and educational programming, including art workshops, author readings, musical performances, Spanish-language preschool story hours, and more.
Since 2010, Biblioteca Criolla has been housed on the fourth floor of the Main Library, in a light-filled space with expansive clerestory windows that create a skylight effect. The space contains the circulating and reference collections, an art gallery, computers available for patron use, children and adult reading areas, as well as tables for quiet reading and work that can also be moved to accommodate Biblioteca Criolla’s many public events.
In the early 1970s, then-Assistant Library Director Mrs. Mary Duffy observed that Spanish-speaking patrons had not been making full use of the Main Library. Mrs. Duffy developed a grant proposal that was submitted to the Office of Services to the Disadvantaged at the New Jersey State Library. With her proposal funded, a pilot project was born: a branch library dedicated to serving the Spanish-speaking population of Jersey City.
Biblioteca Criolla opened its doors at 120 Newark Avenue in May of 1972. The new branch library’s name was chosen to reference the Spanish-language focus of the collection and to appeal directly to the Latino community of Jersey City, which at the time was primarily Puerto Rican. The branch had a Spanish-speaking staff and a welcoming atmosphere, which encouraged the understanding and use of library services. The collection started small, with 500 novellas and an assortment of vinyl records and magazines.
Over the following years, the rapid growth of Jersey City’s Latino community and steadily increasing usage of the branch led to the expansion of Biblioteca Criolla’s services beyond the small lending collection, as well as to the demand for a larger space. The branch was reaching Spanish-speaking residents from all nationalities, providing one of the first job centers in the city, as well as lists of city agencies, college admission fairs, and other practical information never before offered to the Spanish-speaking community. Advocacy on behalf of social needs and cultural presentations also took place at Biblioteca Criolla, reflecting its role in the community as a place where Jersey City’s Spanish speakers congregated and felt comfortable.
Biblioteca Criolla moved to a larger space on the second floor of 194 Newark Avenue, where it remained for several years. However, the branch eventually found itself once again in need of additional space for its growing collection, and the second floor location made it difficult for some patrons to access its services. Ms. Sonia Araujo, one of Biblioteca Criolla’s original staff members, reached out to the community in search of support for a new storefront location. Answering the call were community leaders Eliu Rivera and Julio Colon, who lobbied then-Mayor Bret Schundler for his commitment. Through these efforts, “La Criolla,” as the branch library was affectionately called in the community, was relocated to a new street-level location at 280 First Street.
On April 19, 1997, the grand opening block party ushered in a new era for the Spanish-language branch library, formally identifying its focus on unifying Jersey City’s many Latino communities and rededicated under a new name in honor of a local community activist: the Perfecto Oyola Biblioteca Criolla y Centro Cultural.
Born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, Perfecto Oyola joined the U.S. military in 1948, where he was stationed in Puerto Rico, Panama, and Germany; he immigrated to the United States in 1956. Jersey City was Oyola’s second home until 1987, when he returned to Puerto Rico.
Of his many efforts that benefited local Latino communities, Perfecto Oyola is best remembered for being the founder of the Jersey City Hispanic Merchants, founder and organizer of Puertorriqueños Asociados for Community Organization (PACO), and as president of the Puerto Rican Lutheran Housing Corporation, which was responsible for the 242 housing units at the Villa Borinquen complex on Grove Street and Paulus Hook Towers on 100 Montgomery Street.
In 2010, after nearly 40 years of serving Jersey City’s Spanish-speaking community as a Neighborhood Branch Library, Biblioteca Criolla succumbed to severe budgetary cuts and packed up its materials at the First Street storefront. Biblioteca Criolla was relocated to the fourth floor of the Main Library, where it still resides and continues to provide materials and services to Jersey City’s Spanish speakers.
Biblioteca Criolla re-opened to the public on Monday, June 21, 2010 with a grand re-opening ribbon-cutting and a crowd of well-wishers, from frequent library users, including parents with children in strollers and seniors, to young sixth- and seventh-grade delegates from P.S. 37.
Several special guests attended the dedication of the new space, which is housed in the room that had been the Main Library’s art gallery, and was redesigned by Helena Ruman Architects. Among those present was the Honorable Eliu Rivera, who was at that time executive director of PACO and Hudson County Freeholder for District 4. Mr. Rivera took to the microphone, praising Biblioteca Criolla for years of providing a valuable library service to the community, whether as a branch or a department. Representing then-Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, Mr. Kabili Tayari spoke of the value of reading and the library’s role. Mr. Tayari was a Deputy Mayor in the Healy administration as well as head of the Jersey City branch of the NAACP.
Also attending were Justo De Jesus, who had been department head of Biblioteca Criolla in the early 1970s; Ray Benitez, President of the Jersey City Borinquen Lions Club; Robert Rosado, Vice President of Premio Arte; Romanita Roman of the Visiting Homemaker Service of Hudson County; and featured guest speaker Luis Alvarado, founding member of the Ecuadorian Civic Committee of New Jersey. Mr. Alvarado spoke of his love of libraries that was fostered at the public library near his boyhood home in Union City, and how lifelong learning changes the course of one’s life. Biblioteca Criolla Unit Head Patricia Vega, who had just earned her master’s Degree in Library & Information Science at Pratt Institute in New York City, conducted a tour of the various service areas comprising the newly created department.
“All services have been restored, and nothing has been left out of the mix,” said then-Assistant Library Director Sonia Araujo of the move.
“We are so pleased to re-open Biblioteca Criolla to the many Spanish nationalities that comprise the greater Latino community,” added Vega. “We care about how to serve our Spanish library users, and will be responsive to the community as best we can. Please consider this your intellectual home. ¡Nuestra casa es su casa!”
Main Library, 4th Floor
Phone: (201) 547 - 4541
Department Supervisor: Patricia Vega
Library Director: Priscilla Gardner - (201) 547-4788