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School’s Dual-Use Library Open to Community

Times Staff Writer

Seventh-grader Chantal Adagio is sure her new Ladera Ranch school in southern Orange County has the best library ever.

When the two-story, 14,000-square-foot facility is fully stocked, she will have nearly 60,000 books, videos and magazines at her disposal -- six times more than a typical school library. And not just books for little kids.

Rows of Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks and other more advanced literature await the 12-year-old. She could also check out copies of the Wall Street Journal or “Dog Fancy” magazine, or perhaps something from the fledgling collection of Spanish literature.

This is not just a school library, but also a general-purpose county library -- the first hybrid in Orange County, joining the ranks of about 40 such facilities statewide.

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Officials at Ladera Ranch Elementary and Middle School say they are comfortable with adults visiting their campus, even though public presence at schools normally raises concerns for children’s safety.

During the school day, students have access only to the first-floor school library, with adults restricted to the second floor. Librarians fetch material for those with partial access. Weekdays after 4:15 p.m. and Saturdays the entire facility is open to all.

Because of the presence of adults near classrooms, the school, which opened in August, locks classroom doors during the day, delays the public library’s opening time until after school starts and bans library patrons from walking through campus.

“A public library’s objective is to be as open as possible, but schools have a huge obligation to make sure their students are in a secure environment,” said County Librarian John Adams.

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Adult patrons don’t mind the ground rules and embrace the added resources the library provides their community. Without the influx of school funds, the county would not have been able to open a library in Ladera Ranch, which will eventually be home to about 8,000 people.

Ladera Ranch developers set aside $1.5 million for the $3-million facility, and a state grant for joint school-public libraries paid the balance.

“To mix the public and the school library like this, it’s genius,” said Craig Landino, a high school English teacher who walked to the library with his three children. “The students get all the benefits of having this huge library at their disposal, and the adults get a great library we can walk to with our families.”

The logistics of joint use have been the most difficult part of opening the facility, said branch manager Karen Thorburn. First-floor Internet access had to use school filtering software during the day before switching to Orange County Public Library software at 4:15 p.m. Ladera Ranch students’ library card profiles are not subject to fines, per Capistrano Unified School District policy.

“We’re creating something that hasn’t existed before, so the process is very, very laborious,” Thorburn said. “The end result, though, is this community has an amazing resource.”

She waved away questions about security, saying librarians are just as safety-conscious as educators.

“We are far from lackadaisical about security,” she said, mentioning the background checks and fingerprinting every library employee and volunteer must undergo.

As children toting armfuls of books strolled through the library, parents in tow, the security measures were subtle enough to go unnoticed. More apparent were the unfilled shelves awaiting deliveries.

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But already, the library is giving Chantal and her friends bragging rights. “It’s bigger and it’s got a lot more books than any other school library,” she said.


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