Local libraries booked solid (2024)

Computing, crocheting, tai chi and the Constitution on Coronado Avenue? That’s Saturday afternoon at the Otay Mesa Branch Library, where more than 3,000 people go each week to study, learn about the U.S. citizenship test, watch movies, use Wi-Fi and participate in many other activities.

Whether it’s the Carmel Valley Branch Chess Club, the graphic- novel collection in Poway or just enjoying the ocean breeze from the patio at the Encinitas branch of the county system, libraries in San Diego County are being used more intensely now than ever before.

“We have the highest use we’ve ever had right now,” said Marion Moss Hubbard, spokeswoman for the city of San Diego library system. “These tough economic times are bringing more people to us to save on the cost of books and movies, to use our computers and wireless connections to look for work and stay caught up. It’s a free place they can go to relax, learn and enrich their lives.”

It isn’t all relaxing, though. At the Mission Valley Branch Library, 31 people were lined up for the computers before the doors opened on a recent weekday. During the lunch hour, all 19 computers in the one-hour room were taken.

“I use the computer for looking on Craigslist for jobs and trading,” said Allan Rodriguez, who visits the Fenton Parkway library three or four times a week. “It’s part of my errands — go to Lowe’s, stop at Costco. There are people here to go to lunch and then come back and watch movies.”

The back of the library is a long, curved wall of south-facing windows that light a serenely quiet reading area. The airy-feeling room is ringed by meeting rooms that people can use for group meetings at no charge.

Kathleen Slayton, a board member of the American Association of University Women, goes to the library for an association meeting — and to drop off some books.

“The library lets us use a meeting room for free, so we have more money to use for scholarships,” Slayton said. “We get a reserved room in a great location and we save money.”

Two aisles away, Pat Langston waited for one of the 15-minute computers. Normally, Langston brings her three children to do their homework, but this time she was there to return movies and look for recipes.

“I bring my kids two or three times a week to do their homework, and I catch up on my reading,” Langston said. “They learn a lot more when we come here.”

San Diego and the county have separate library systems, though both share borrowing privileges. The city’s system consists of a central library downtown and 35 branches. The county has 33 branches, including those in Jacumba, Borrego Springs, Vista and El Cajon.

Each library branch has its own character, often rooted in when and where they were built. The Otay Mesa branch was built in 1985 atop a hill overlooking Beyer Boulevard. Children hike up paths to get to this library, where you can smell the ocean in the parking lot.

In Mission Valley, where the library is next to a trolley stop, many patrons are from other parts of the city and have errands at the nearby shopping center. The 55-year-old central library on E Street downtown attracts families from across the city on Saturdays and has a regular “date night” group for free movies on Sunday afternoons.

The central library logged more than 1 million patrons last year.

Jesus McClaskey, a security guard at the Carmel Valley branch, uses the downtown library when he’s not working.

“It’s closer to my house, and the atmosphere is so different,” McClaskey said. “Downtown is regal and has more exhibits.”

Branch libraries also are heavily used. In 2009, the Rancho Bernardo branch recorded more than 290,000 visits by patrons, while Carmel Valley recorded nearly half a million. In the city library system, patrons last year checked out 7.6 million items ranging from textbooks to laptops.

The family-literacy meetings at the Malcolm X branch in southeastern San Diego, where tutors work on reading with parents and children together, are full. Because libraries have Wi-Fi, librarians say they often see the glow of laptops in the night parking lot — and some of the libraries, including Otay-Mesa and Logan Heights, can even lend patrons a laptop.

Nearly every library in the county offers banks of computers; most offer training in specific computer programs, including Microsoft Office and Google Earth.

They also have DVDs of everything from children’s tutorials for getting a new baby brother to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Lake Placid” to Placido Domingo.

“I don’t have money to go sit in a coffee place and pay for coffee, pay for wireless,” said Luz Felix, a medical student who was preparing for her licensing exams at the Poway library. “The library is great — I watched (a) belly-dancing class this morning, and when I want a break, there’s a whole pile of treasures I can leaf through.”

A few aisles away, Drake Torme slouched in an upholstered chair across from a friend. Torme was reading a graphic novel, “Shonen Jump,” while his friend leafed through a catalog.

“We’re waiting for an appointment in a couple of hours,” Torme said. “It’s too far to go home and come back, and it’s nice here.”

Across two freeways, in Carmel Valley, Heather Fong put in her earplugs and started through a stack of DVD movies to play on her laptop. She had finished checking her e-mail using the library’s Wi-Fi, and had two San Diego newspapers next to her laptop.

“I’m taking a break from doing legal research for an ‘Erin Brockovich’-type project,” said Fong, who goes to the library three days a week. “It’s been more crowded because of the recession, but this library is used quite a lot anyway — I always see people studying and reading to their children.”

Across the library, Torrey Pines High School student Chris Kwon studied for a science exam. Chris lives near the branch and visits a few times a week.

“I can get my focus in here and have no distractions, no brothers, no TV, no computers,” Chris said. “Once in a while I use the Internet, but I come here to study.”

Felix, who came home to North County from Vermont to study for her licensing exams, said she “practically grew up in the Escondido Library.

“My mom used to take me to the library, and I stayed for hours on the second floor,” she said. “I grew up in a low-income family without money for CDs and books, and the library gave us all those things.”

Marty Graham is a freelance writer in San Diego.

Local libraries booked solid (2024)


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