More than 100 years ago, the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie saw the potential for the public library to be the center of enlightened learning in every community. He offered to build libraries if communities would contribute land, furnish money for annual maintenance, and exercise governance and oversight.
Between 1881 and 1917, he invested the modern-day equivalent of $3 billion to build 1,689 libraries across the nation. Carnegie's investment and the involvement of those communities helped educate generations of Americans.
Libraries continue to do so. The problem is that we, the public, tend to think that once the library is there, it can continue doing its job without considering what has happened to the buildings, technology, population, the needs of the public and more.
Consider how often your own home needs maintenance — leaking pipes and roofs, termites, faulty wiring, general wear and tear — to say nothing of the times you might have liked to change a wall, or add a room to make space for additional family or changed activities. Public buildings such as libraries have these same needs.
Consider how much technology has changed, not only in the last 100 years, but in the last decade, five years, or even a year. When you go to the library, you expect to find, if not the latest, at least fairly recent computers and software. And behind the scenes, if it were not for refitting of electrical systems, those computers would not be able to operate.
Consider that the square footage of our three Costa Mesa libraries only amounts to about 16,400 square feet. This is less than a third of the standard recommendation for square footage per capita.
Some people say that, with computers and electronic books, we don't need bigger libraries. But libraries across the nation are finding that computers in libraries are adding to library use and that, although eBooks are gaining in popularity, it will be a long time before all people are reading them, and before all books are available digitally.
I will talk more later on changes in library services and financing in the last 100 years, but in the meantime, I would like to encourage you all to consider exercising "governance and oversight" of our public libraries.
Don't forget to sign up for the last two sessions of the Beginning Writers' Workshop, sponsored by the Costa Mesa Library Foundation.
The next sessions, "Creating Characters," led by Dr. Robert Sassone, is May 24, and "Finding an Agent," led by Jeri Westerson, is June 21.
The cost is $25 per session, to be held at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Ave., Costa mesa. Register online at http://www.costamesalibraryfoundation.org.
At the Mesa Verde Library
Some years ago, a man planted a tree in front of the Mesa Verde Library, at 2969 Mesa Verde Drive, to commemorate a brother who had died.
This past year, the tree has been "clothed" in a colorful "Random Act of Knitting." I recently noticed it.
Inside the library, there has also been change. I may have mentioned the new countertops that the Friends of the Library have provided, but the latest addition is new chairs, also a gift of the Friends. Those for the children are brightly colored.
Call the library, at (714) 546-5274, for information on Storytimes and other children's activities.
At the Costa Mesa Donald Dungan Library
The Mystery Book Club's theme for the next few months will be first books in popular mystery series.
On April 24, the group will discuss "On What Grounds" by Cleo Coyle. Coyle is the pen name for author Alice Alfonsi, who collaborates with her husband Marc Cerasini to write the Coffeehouse Mysteries.
This series is set in and around a fictional coffeehouse in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. The book club is free and anyone can join.
The topic of the May 3 ReadOC Parent Workshop is "Reading Fun with Puppets."
Parents of infant, toddler and preschool children are invited to come to these one-hour sessions to learn about parenting topics in a small, child-friendly group. Parents are welcome to bring their children.
Call (949) 646-8845 for information on Storytime programming at this library. The branch is at 1855 Park Ave.
MARY ELLEN GODDARD produced this column on behalf of the Friends of Costa Mesa Libraries, the Costa Mesa Library Foundation and the three Costa Mesa branches of the Orange County Public Libraries.