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A Celebration of Knowledge

Enter almost any public library and watch children make a beeline for computers. The machines are turning out to be a fine drawing card to introduce a new generation to a major community asset.

No wonder then that city officials in Orange were enthusiastic this month when the main library reopened after a year’s renovation. The old facility had one computer terminal for patrons. The overhauled building has 10 computers with Internet access; another 10 are planned. It also has six computers for children.

The city deserves credit for spending $1.7 million to renovate a building nearly 40 years old. Even if it is torn down to make way for a bigger facility on the same property, that would be years away. There is also the possibility some day of turning it into a branch of a new main library to be built elsewhere in Orange. A city official said a new, top-flight facility could cost $20 million.

Those sorts of price tags give officials pause, as they should. Directors of the Palos Verdes library system came under heavy fire several years ago when they refurbished the main library, turning it into an expensively furnished building derided by critics as a Taj Mahal of libraries.

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Still, Orange appears to have done a good job spending its money on a brighter, more inviting building, with areas attractive to children and a variety of books and CD-ROMs available.

Orange is among a number of cities in Orange County that operate their own libraries, and the county runs a system as well. In the early 1990s and after the 1994 bankruptcy, tough times led numerous libraries to reduce operating hours. Fortunately the past few years have been better and the doors have been opened longer.

Orange officials say a continuing problem is the size of the main library, the smallest main library in the county. A consultant’s report in 1997 said the building was not big enough for the city’s population.

Whatever its future, for now the Orange library seems destined to be a center of community life, as are libraries across Orange County. Storehouses of knowledge that provide residents with access to the writings, music and films of years past and the current era are worth celebrating.

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