Patrons Give New Library Enthusiastic Thumbs Up
By Ann K. Williams
January 31 -- Two weeks after its grand opening, Santa Monica’s new main library – “the gem of the city” in one patron’s words – was doing brisk business, attracting locals of all ages and from all walks of life.
By early last week, more than 40,000 people had walked through the electronic gate counters, “an amazing number” according to a very pleased Greg Mullen, the city librarian.
And they’re not just coming for the building, innovative though it is.
“Books are flying off the shelves,” volunteer Sue O’Brien said with a cheerful Irish accent. She stood in the lobby greeting newcomers and offering assistance.
Mullen confirmed O’Brien’s observation. The new book area, where books are displayed on bookstore shelves, cover facing out, is getting “a little thin.”
And the DVD shelves, “absolutely packed” when the library first opened, look empty now, Mullen said. That’s because 90 percent of the DVDs, which are free, are in circulation.
And that’s the way Mullen likes it. On the first day alone, 6,000 items
were checked out.
He was right. Within an hour of opening time, four smartly-dressed young women stood around a smooth black stone ledge filling out applications while O’Brien helped them.
But the new library isn’t just about books and movies.
Before the doors even opened, a brigade of strollers was lining up for toddler storytime, one of several storytimes -- baby, toddler, preschool and Spanish -- that draws dozens of little ones and their parents and nannies.
Not only do the kids get music, playtime and a story -- their caregivers get a chance to socialize and trade parenting notes as they take a breather in the peaceful, dimly-lit room with green walls.
Two young mothers compared tactics on how to get their two-year olds to stop biting, while another fanned her infant with a red vinyl mat, much to the giggling baby’s delight.
“I love it,” Anna Grunspan said. It’s great to have “a section where you’re not going to bother anyone.”
Her two-year-old daughter, Isabella, seemed to agree as she ran around their low circular table. “Yeah, yeah,” Isabella chanted and held up her favorite book, which she called, “The Mouse.”
Nearby, 16-month-old Asher concentrated intently on the computer in front of her tiny chair. She used the mouse without prompting or random motion as she selected a picture of a leaf, then pushed the right button on the keyboard without hesitation.
Her caregiver Beatrice was proud of Asher’s precocity.
“She loves everything electronic,” Beatrice said. “Computers, cell phones, everything.”
And Mullen is proud of the multiplicity of computer uses offered at the new library.
Not only do children who seem to be born with a chip in their brains get to use the computers, even those the internet has passed by will get a chance to dip their toes into cyberspace on Technology Day, February 18.
The day will be followed by a series of computer classes for all ages.
Meanwhile, across the floor from the excited children, an older generation enjoyed “the living room” of the library, as one put it, where they could sink into rust-orange easy chairs and peruse the library’s collection of newspapers and magazines.
Joe O’Connor, a retired man who was happy to take a moment to chat, said he loves the new library and “comes here every day to read the paper.”
“There’s even going to be a deli,” he was pleased to note, pointing to the outdoor courtyard through the open walls.
He wasn’t the only member of his generation who was excited about the new library.
“It’s wonderful,” said Maryanne, an energetic 70-year-old who arrived just as the doors opened. “You go in there and you don’t want to go out,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back every day.”
She was grateful for the docent who guided her through the new electronic self-checkout system. “There’s someone right there to help you, and they don’t criticize you,” she said.
In the outdoor courtyard, a group of nannies gathered to chat and let their charges run around by the garden pool, while several 30-something men staked out a couple of tables.
One pair was studying medical terminology, quizzing each other on symptoms.
A lone young man with his laptop sat at another table talking on his cell phone.
When Reid Harrison hung up, he said, “I was just talking to my brother in Nashville. I was telling him that this is by far the nicest library I’ve ever been in.”
Harrison couldn’t praise it enough. “What more can you ask for – sitting here by a pond, getting things done.”
“The wireless is strong and consistent,” he added. “Brilliant.”
Even the security officers wanted to get in on the act, and gave the “state of the art” architecture their thumbs up.
“I like the Jetson look,” one said.
He didn’t want to be named, though, and neither did the lone self-identified homeless man, who seemed to be keeping a low profile.
“I’m one of those dirty homeless people,” he said. “You don’t want my opinion.”
Perhaps that’s because of the “behavioral rules” the library is enforcing to ensure a pleasant environment for all the patrons.
Patrons cannot sleep in the library, bring in food or “lots of stuff” and if their hygiene is offensive -- that is, if they smell bad or will get the furniture dirty -- they can be asked to leave, Mullen explained.
“We’re a public facility. We’re happy to serve anybody.” Mullen said, when asked if the homeless were welcome.
Judging from the reactions of last week’s patrons, the rules seem to be working well, at least for the many who felt welcome.
And there’s room for more, with new programs and features starting at a fast clip. The coffee shop will open this spring, and the Santa Monica Historical Society is due to move into its new space in a year.
Programs for all ages and interests are offered daily, and recent weekend events have drawn standing room only crowds into the new Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium.
Monthly calendars are listed on the library’s website.
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