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Brett Bonfield
Executive Director

Princeton Public Library

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get to where you are now?

I grew up in Abington, PA, and graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick. My first jobs were mostly in fundraising and information technology, and mostly in higher education. 

In my mid-thirties, I started asking my friends two questions: “Do you like what you’re doing for a living? Would I like doing what you do?” The only two people who answered “yes” to both questions were my college roommate and his wife, who met while earning their master’s degrees in library science at Rutgers. They were right: librarianship is a wonderful career for generalists, and leading a public library allows me to make use of the skills I developed before I went into librarianship. The ten years I’ve spent working in libraries have been incredibly satisfying and a great deal of fun. I love being around people who love libraries.

Why Princeton?

My wife and I both grew up in the Philadelphia area and we both graduated from Rutgers. We’ve spent a lot of time in Princeton and we’ve always enjoyed it. We think New Jersey is a great place to live, and we like towns with a strong sense of community. We also like places that feel cosmopolitan and connected to the world. Princeton checks all of our boxes.

As a public library director, I’ve found it both practical and symbolically valuable to live in the community that’s paying my salary, plus I enjoy walking to work. We rented an apartment on Humbert Street in December 2015, and I started working at the library in January 2016.

What is it that makes the Princeton Public Library unique? 

We have the busiest municipal public library in the state, and there are many more Princeton Public Library cardholders than there are Princeton residents, so a lot of people are choosing to join and make use of this library. I think it’s because we provide great customer service, we offer an outstanding collection, we have fantastic programs, and we have a beautiful, centrally located building.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment so far? 

The Princeton Public Library is such a team-oriented, collaborative environment that it’s difficult to identify my accomplishments, especially given how recently I started working here, so I don’t feel like I can answer for myself. As an organization, our biggest accomplishment since I’ve been here has been managing change. We’ve experienced a lot of changes in the past year or so, including changes in several key management positions, the library’s physical space (especially the 2Reimagine second floor renovation), and in how we’ve staffed most of our departments. While we were able to anticipate and prepare for many of these changes, some were surprises that required enormous flexibility and a great deal of patience and hard work. My colleagues responded wonderfully.

In the midst of all this change, we’ve been working with Princeton resident and market researcher, Suki Wasserman, on a plan for 2017. Our last, five-year strategic plan ended in 2015. We’ll replace it with a new strategic plan next year, covering 2018-2020. In the meantime, Suki has been guiding us through individual planning meetings with our managers and senior staff, a Board of Trustees subcommittee, subcommittees from the library’s Friends Council and Foundation Board, and a “think tank” convened by Princeton University faculty member and Princeton Public Library Humanities Council Chair, Stanley Katz. We started this process in April and expect to have Board of Trustee approval for our 2017 plan in early October.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? 

I’ve been most influenced by colleagues at the libraries where I’ve worked, librarians at peer libraries who have taken me under their wing, and my colleagues at library-related organizations in which I’ve participated: In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Library Pipeline, the American Library Association, the New Jersey Library Association, code4lib, ACRLog, the Special Libraries Association, and the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative. There’s no way I would be able to do my job without great colleagues and a strong professional network. As a bonus, the people I’ve worked with and who have influenced my library career have been incredible sources of joy, kindness, and insight.

How else are you involved in the community beyond the PPL?

For the most part, I get involved in charities, causes, and projects related to libraries. I am also on the board of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and my wife is on the board for People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos.

How can the PMA support or serve you better?

There’s no way I would be able to do my job without great colleagues and a strong network within the community we serve. PMA has already been a wonderful resource in inviting me to join its network, and I’m always eager for more opportunities to get to know more people and create stronger partnerships and friendships.

I would also like to work with the PMA to make the Princeton Public Library card a “key to Princeton” in the same way that it is already a key to knowledge and entertainment. How great would it be if your Princeton Public Library card entitled you to a discount or some other perk at a local shop, restaurant, or service provider? Of course, we would promote this relationship with our partners on our website, encouraging our cardholders to support our local business partners.

Where is your favorite place to eat in Princeton?

We have spent our first several months in Princeton getting to know the local restaurants and we have been delighted. There is incredible variety here and an insistence on quality, value, and professional, friendly service. Our only request: please add more vegan selections to your menu, especially main courses with enough protein and calories to leave us feeling full. If you’re looking for someone to sample a new vegan dish that you’re considering, we would be happy to be of service!