Four decades after it began, Margaret Dombrosky has retired from the career she never intended to have.
Dombrosky, who prefers her nickname, ‘Marge”, said goodbye to the institution she shepherded from old-fashioned rigid and somber, to high activity hectic and razor’s edge new. This month she leaves her job as director of the Swedesboro branch of the Gloucester County Library System (GCLS), a system that did not yet exist when Dombrosky started working in the 70’s, “as a part-time library assistant,” she recalled.
She left her part-time job to raise her three daughters but came back in 1987. This time she was hired as Director of the Swedesboro Library. Hooked on books as a child, Dombrosky said she loved libraries. “I was a curious kid and you are never bored, you are always learning something at a library. Even so, I never thought I’d work at a library. I wanted to be a history teacher. But I’m thrilled at where I ended up.”
Born and reared in South Philly, Marge’s family moved to Swedesboro when she was a preteen. “It was a big shock,” she said. “It was farm county, very laid back.” She adjusted and eventually married Paul Dombrosky, a Swedesboro native, now retired from his job at Pennsylvania Electric Company.
Dombrosky, who studied mostly business in her college courses, was not a librarian and was unprepared for her new job as library director. Back in the 80’s, libraries were largely independent entities funded by municipalities or “friends of” associations. And for a history lover like Dombrosky, the Swedesboro Library was a source of career inspiration.
“This is one of the first libraries in the state of New Jersey,” she said, thrilled to be saying it. “The Swedesboro Public Library was formed in 1793, part of the lending library concept. You could get a library card for $3 and there’s a parchment on the library wall with a list of the names of some early people who joined. There are about four or five names. All men.
“There’s a painting of lambs on a farm, very unusual, that was donated to the library in 1906 by the fifth graders at the Swedesboro Public School. I think that’s now Hill School.
“On a wall, too, there’s Captain Lippincott’s sword and a short biography of the Revolutionary War captain.” Richard Lippincott, a loyalist, captained the New Jersey Volunteers in their fight against the patriots.
History aside, the main fact to digest about the Swedesboro Library is this: It is not your mother’s, or father’s, library anymore. The young mom who first stepped into the quiet rooms and office of the mid-80s institution, would never have recognized today’s library as the same place.
That very change, and the benefits it brought, and brings, to its community; that early, ongoing, and lasting change, is Marge Dombrosky’s legacy.
The libraries known to Dombrosky and to every library user everywhere until about the 1990’s, had a feeling of “dark and dreary,” she remembered. “They were open (limited) hours … the first library I went to I was ‘shushed’ and told I couldn’t get books from a certain area because it was a history book and it was too old for me.”
When she walked into her job as director, it was to a library where books were found by searching drawers and drawers of card indexes. A place where low tones and furrowed brows announced the seriousness of the goings-on at the tables shared by students, readers, researchers, and where a librarian’s main role was to find tomes among the Dewey Decimal-tagged shelves.
She leaves her directorship at a library that houses computers, printers, tutors in various classes, reading sessions with dogs, quilting lessons, free movies, museum passes and a host of inviting, entertaining, instructive activities and perquisites, all for the price of a library card. And that card, unlike in 1793, does not cost $3. It is free to county residents.
The modernization of the Swedesboro Library was a natural direction for Dombrosky who, as is apparent through hindsight, was prescient, ahead of her time, and eager to opt into a trend she recognized as vital. She embraced technology when the movement was just beginning to enter schools and small businesses, not to mention households.
“We were all low tech back then,” Domobrosky remembered. “We manually wrote in bar codes for every book we had, a record for a database. We applied for grants and bought four computers. Then we no longer had to look through file drawers of book cards. We don’t have to do card catalogs anymore at all, and now we have time for Music for Babies classes.”
There is much more that technology has made possible, even mandated, than fun music sessions for parent and infant. Dombrosky said the library has activities and services for people of all ages, infants to seniors.
A look at the library’s announcement page in the New Town Press will fill you in on the offerings. All the programs, many free, are from an outreach made possible by an investment in technology.
With computers came an expansion of information and entertainment and a request from library users for instruction in how to use and take advantage of the freely available technology, from writing resumes, doing research efficiently, watching shows and movies and getting step-by-step directions for building something.
The retiring director knew when she first heard the possibilities of tech at library conferences that Swedesboro would benefit. At the heart of a library, she said, “is that libraries are learning centers, educational centers. Libraries evolve,” and she did not want her library left behind.
She lobbied the local government and the county library commission and found like-minded people ready to help with funding and fundraising. “I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” Dombrosky said.
Swedesboro Councilman David Flaherty, a neighbor of the Dombrosky’s, was happy to oblige when asked for comment on the library director. He is council liaison to the library.
“She helped guide the library from an independent system to the county system,” he began. “She could see early on the need for expanding the educational, research and the horizons of the library. She was always going after the cutting edge, but she was always very thrifty.
“This was a farm community and it was changing in the late 1900’s. Early in the 2000’s she saw the need to expand. The population was growing. Marge has been pushing forward for decades. She’s a forward thinker, extremely so; she, and the (council) board and the mayor.
“Mayor (Thomas) Fromm and myself were on board from the beginning. Marge just doesn’t let go. She had the facts. She always had the facts, but we knew she would never go for more than the township could afford.”
Flaherty expanded a bit on his friend. Dombrosky, he said, “is actually a quiet person. You would not have expected she would have built that library program if you just met her. It is amazing. People have left legacy gifts to the library because of their experiences there.
“She had the vision and she had our blessing as a council.”
Dombrosky sees herself as a partner in the progress rather than responsible for it. She enthused about the support for and receptiveness to new ideas of the library boards at the local and county level and about her staff, responsible for barnstorming and carrying through those new ideas.
“We have changed. Without the support from the board and my coworkers, our changes would not have happened. We’d still be just rooms for quiet reading and research, and we would be defunct,” she said.
Does this library careerist have a prediction for the future of her library? “Well,” she laughed, “I’m surprised at the present. We used to be preparing for technology five years down the road only to see it arrive in two years. Do you know there’s now a digital sound stage at (GCLS headquarters) Mullica Hill library? That they have a 3D printer?
“This is what I want to do in my retirement. I want to come to the library and use all these wonderful resources now that I’ll have the time.
“No. It’s not your mother’s library any more. My own mother, who is in her nineties, keeps asking me why we do this or that at the library. ‘You’re a library. Libraries don’t do that,’ she tells me.
“But libraries should change to meet the needs of the community,” Dombrosky said. “You might hear at Swedesboro a request to ‘keep it down a bit’, but you will no longer be ‘shushed’ at the library.
Marge Dombrosky’s service to the community will be celebrated at a retirement dinner Jan. 26 at Botto’s. You can bet friends and family, many carrying a high-tech mobile video recorder of some sort, will post pictures of the affair on numerous Internet social media outlets. It’s more than possible they learned to use their tech devices, and the Internet, at the library.
By Jean Redstone
The following are more pictures of the interior of the Swedesboro Library that shows the infusion of the technology the Dombrosky is responsible for, mixed with the history of the past.