“I had fond memories of going to the library as a kid,” she said. “One of the joys was having the ability to pick my own books and check them out. For me, it was freedom. Being back in the library as a volunteer rekindled that passion and I knew my life was going to change.”
When Cole was in first grade, Jennifer began working as a library substitute at Clinton Elementary School. As she spent more and more time within the space, Jennifer realized she’d found her dream job. “One day I looked up and decided, ‘I’m never leaving this job,’” she said. “I worked as a substitute teacher by day, and took classes at Rutgers at night and online. After two-and-a-half years, I’d completed my Masters in Library Science.”
Her enthusiasm has earned her many young fans. “The kids absolutely love her,” Patrick said. “When we’re downtown or walking around the neighborhood, we’re always stopped by students. She’ll take time to talk about what they’re reading or give a parent a suggestion on a good book for their child. We also get the occasional car that goes by with a kid yelling ‘MRS. LATIMER!’ from the backseat.”
ennifer Latimer’s home brims with books. They are stashed beside the sofa, stacked on bedside tables, and crammed along bookshelves found in nearly every room. And according to Jennifer, School Media Specialist at Clinton Elementary School, there is always room for more. “I can’t resist,” she says. “Books are a gateway to discovering new worlds and ideas. They can help us not only better understand the world around us, but ourselves.”
Jennifer and her husband Patrick, a sales and marketing executive at Jaguar Land Rover, moved to Maplewood in 2000. The couple, who’d been living in Weehawken, loved the friendly feeling and creative community they found each time they visited. “Maplewood was an easy sell,” she said. “While we gave up a direct view of the city, we couldn’t resist our little purple house on a corner.”
Jennifer and Patrick first met while working at Ford Motor Company, where they both worked in sales and marketing. After the move to Maplewood, and the arrival of their son Cole, now a 19-year-old sophomore at Penn State University, Jennifer stepped away from her career for a few years. It was then that she began volunteering at the Maplewood Library.
Since joining Clinton Elementary school in 2010, Jennifer has spearheaded efforts to modernize the library, adding an array of STEM-centric and hands-on activities that engage the children. “There is something here for every student,” she said. “We have over 12,000 physical books and 5,000 e-books/audiobooks. But we also have rainbow looms, math games, and a Lego table. Kids who have space to pursue their passions will end up with a book in their hand to learn more.”
But encouraging reading is not Jennifer’s only goal. “You put four kids around a Lego table and they learn how the world works: how to get along, how to interact,” she said. “Nothing is permanent. Be kind. You have to share. You have to communicate. You can’t always get what you want. The library is a gift of time to build community.”
At the end of each school year, Jennifer marvels at the impact the library can have on a life —and counts herself grateful for the work she is able to do.