Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 7:12 am | Fair 43º


Eastside Branch Library Reopens with a Whoosh, Not a Shush

Community pours in en masse after popular library's $240,000 renovation

Santa Barbara’s distinctive Eastside Branch Library reopened its main room Saturday after undergoing a $240,000 makeover.

As the time approached for the official opening at noon, children crowded toward the front door, clearly eager to get in to the building at 1102 E. Montecito St. Irene Macias, the Santa Barbara Public Library System’s director, spoke to the crowd, thanking local resident Rose Karat for her generous bequest to the library. She also thanked the staff and Friends of the Library for their focus and hard work. She reminded people what a great resource the Eastside Library is for the community.

Mayor Helene Schneider took the microphone and reminded residents of the cloud hovering over public services with millions of dollars in budget cuts looming.

“We tend to take libraries for granted,” she said. “But we shouldn’t take them for granted. This is a place where the community learns and grows and meets each other.”

When Eastside Branch supervisor Marivel Zambrano-Esparza spoke, she thanked her staff, the Friends of the Eastside Library, the city Public Works Department for the work it did on the remodel, and the community. She repeated the speech in Spanish and as soon as she allowed, the children rushed inside where they were once again brought up short, this time by a red ribbon that blocked access to the library.

Schneider, with the help of Councilman Frank Hotchkiss and the requisite pair of giant scissors, cut the ribbon. The children swept inside, adults studded among them. It felt like an Easter egg hunt as the children fanned out. They filtered through the children’s room and went up and down the aisles between new tables and shelving in the main room.

“This library has about 20,000 volumes,” said Sarah Rosenblum, the library services director who is responsible for all the branches. “The circulation is around 80,000 books a year. Circulation is going up. Not a lot. But this library is focused more on computer usage.”

She gestured toward the evenly spaced black monitors paired off one-to-one with someone using the computer. “That’s what this community needs,” she said.

The library bought $20,000 in new books and DVDs. But it also acquired six new computers, bringing the total Internet access count in the main room to 12. There are also two dedicated word processing machines, also in use, and two dedicated online card catalogs.

“People like this library because it’s small and intimate,” she said as two young boys weaved between us and down an aisle. “Well, not like today so much.”

There are a gaggle of teens at the bank of new computers. A girl of 2 navigates over the arm of the new reading chairs while her mother pulls magazines to read. Macias is clearly proud of the fact that the Eastside Library is different.

“This library is not as quiet as most,” she said. “This library is more of a community gathering place. There are a lot of community meetings in the King center next door. The kids run in here after school lets out.

“I get lots of compliments from the community that we engage so many kids here. Marivel,” she nods toward Zambrano-Esparza, “knows these kids individually. She loves introducing them to books and reading.”

Library patron Carolyn Clancy says the Eastside Branch is unique and it’s what draws her to this library.

“I come here because they have books that Central doesn’t have,” she said, naming one book she often checks out, a Chilton automotive repair manual. “Just don’t say what kind of car it’s for,” she said. “Otherwise it might be checked out when I need it.”

Other patrons come because the library is compact and the parking is easy and free. Jace Turner, head reference librarian from the Central branch, said, “Riviera residents come here to pick up their holds.”

But most come because they use the online services. Ten minutes after the doors are opened, every computer is in use, most by two or three teenagers at once. They are scrolling through Web pages, playing games, finding interesting music and images, and they’re talking. The talk is not loud, but it is a persistent drone as the children lean over a shoulder, point at a screen and watch patiently while their friend moves around on a page or clicks through to something else.

One older patron is an island of calm among the computers. He’s got The New York Times open online. If he were to run a quick search, he would find the news of the last few years peppered with reports of troubled libraries. If the economy were a mine shaft, libraries would be canaries. The city of Boston held public meetings earlier this week during which the possibility of closing branches was discussed. Closer to home, Montecito Branch supervisor Jody Thomas sent out a plea to the community last week for funding help to stay open and retain staff, services and programs.

But today, the Eastside Branch is celebrating. Standing in the main room, it looks exactly like a library, but it is behaving like something else, something vital and bustling. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, “Reports of the library’s death were exaggerated.”

Click here to continue reading Noozhawk contributor David Petry’s report on his blog, Decomposing Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk contributor David Petry is a local historian, photographer and author of The Best Last Place: A History of Santa Barbara Cemetery. Click here to read his blog, Decomposing Santa Barbara, which focuses on aspects of Santa Barbara history that are disappearing.

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