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Working by the Book

By Jorge Casuso

September 13 -- Technology has come a long way since Greg Mullen typed dialogue searches on a Texas Instrument that spewed out the results on waxy paper.

But Santa Monica’s City librarian says the New Main Library Downtown has become a thriving community gathering place, despite dire predictions that the Internet would spell the demise of brick and mortar book repositories.

“More people than ever are coming to libraries,” said Mullen, who has been a local librarian since 1990. “Libraries are another place in the community that’s not work and it’s not home, but where people come together.

“People don’t come to grab a book from the shelf and leave, they stay,” Mullen said. “We could have 100 people actively working on their computers.”

Mullen served as the library system’s lead in the design process that resulted in a $57.7 million state-of-the art library that has had more than one million visits since it opened its doors in January 2006.

“It was a kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” said Mullen. “Santa Monica has a strong tradition of supporting libraries. There’s a long history of support.”

Touted as a model of sustainable design, the 104,000-square-foot structure features multistory “walls of glass,” movable walls and “operable windows” that break down the barriers between inside and out.

The structure allows patrons to wander in and out of the garden courtyard and enjoy a cup of coffee, while they browse the latest bestseller.

“It’s the ambience of the space, the light,” said Mullen. “We have different types of seating, study rooms. We wanted to have different types of spaces.”

Santa Monica’s new library also boasts one of the first online reference services, Mullen said. “We think of our online services as another branch.”

But while the Internet provides a wealth of information with the click of a mouse, there is still no substitute for a library when it comes to more detailed searches.

“The more complicated and sophisticated the question, the more you need help,” Mullen said. “Technology expands the awareness of information you can provide in a library.”

While Santa Monica’s library system remains at the leading edge of technology, it also boasts collections that are tailored to the browsers’ needs, Mullen said. Also attracting visitors are programs that have been attended by some 64,000 people.

The new library is drawing record numbers of visitors, with more than 1.3 million visits since it opened, it has successfully grappled with a homeless problem that was the source of complaints at the old facility.

According to library rules, patrons cannot sleep in the library, bring in food, obstruct aisles with personal belongings or disrupt the library with noisy or disorderly conduct. If their hygiene is offensive – that is, if they smell bad or will get the furniture dirty – they can be asked to leave, Mullen said.

“The library is for everyone,” he said. “The homeless was a concern from the beginning. We really do have some good rules about the type of behavior allowed.”

The rules, crafted with the City Attorneys Office and based on legal precedent from a New Jersey case, boil down to one key question: “Is what you’re doing interfering with other people’s access to the library?” Mullen said.

“People that appeared to be homeless used to be a common complaint,” he said. “Now it’s a rarity.”

The son of a business owner, Mullen was drawn early on to libraries, checking out books, records and old 8-millimeter movies when he was in elementary school.

“It was always in my mind that (being a librarian) was a possibility,” said Mullen, who got a Master’s Degree from USC in 1978. “I liked retail work. I liked the interaction.”

Keeping the Main Library Downtown – instead of relocating it to the Civic Center – was a good call, Mullen said.

“We’re at the center of things,” he said. “This is a destination. We benefit from Downtown, but people also visit, head out and cruise around the Downtown.

“It’s a very positive environment,” Mullen said of the new facility. “People come, and they want to be here.”

Readers Fine Jewelers Advertisement


More people than ever are coming to libraries.” Greg Mullen


“Technology expands the awareness of information you can provide in a library.”


“People that appeared to be homeless used to be a common complaint. Now it’s a rarity.”


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