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Our Laguna: Library book-borrowing to go on hiatus

Local library patrons may go into withdrawal starting Aug. 17, when Laguna’s branch closes its doors for at least three months.

The branch will be getting its long overdue overhaul. Unfortunately the library cannot stay open while the work is underway.

“It’s a huge, huge undertaking,” said Martha Lydick, perennial president of the Friends of the Laguna beach Library.

But don’t panic. The Friends bookstore will be open except for about 2 ½ weeks, with the dates to be announced, Lydick said.

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Although the books aren’t free, they are cheap — some paperbacks as low as 10 cents each, three for a quarter. Hardbacks published this year might go as high as $4, but most of the books in the stacks are 75 cents each. Paperbacks on the shelves are a generally a quarter each.

That’s probably cheaper than the cost of gas to go to out-of-town branches, which would entail two trips to borrow and return books, as the county is suggesting. The money from the sales will come in handy for the Friends, who have committed to fund more than half of the cost of the renovation.

But it isn’t just books that library patrons will be missing. Lots of folks check out tapes and videos. They do research on library computers and in the Local History Room. The closure will be especially hard on residents who depend on the library for free Internet service.

And parents won’t be thrilled at the cessation of the children’s summer reading program or evening events geared for the kids.

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“We will have to wrap things up a little earlier than usual,” Children’s Librarian Rebecca Porter said. “But we will have the annual barbecue on Saturday, Aug. 15 at Bluebird Park.”

Laguna Beach firefighters preside over the barbecues and hand out awards to the kids who completed the program.

But Porter is delighted with the plans for the children’s section of the library, which include paint and a composition material for changing displays, custom carpeting and realigned shelves to give Porter a better view of activities. She will be even more delighted with the news that Friends member Katherine Stellar has come up with the funding for new furniture.

Grown-ups are going to love the renovations in the adult areas, which include new carpeting and interior paint, rearrangement of stacks and service desks for better access, a new energy-efficient lighting system and the installation of a new heating and air conditioning system on the roof

“The lighting was the impetus for the entire project,” Branch Manager Jenny Gasset said

The lighting requires rewiring and ceilings will have to be removed, Gasset said, which is one good reason to close the facility during the renovation.

“It will be a big mess,” Gasset said. “And it’s not very comfortable in here because the air conditioning has been up and down.”

The air conditioning unit at the library has been iffy for more than a year.

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Last July, the county announced that a new high-tech system was being designed. County library building honcho Bob Genzel said the unit will save dollars, reduce the carbon footprint — always a plus in Laguna — and definitely be more quiet.

Installation was delayed to incorporate it into the 2009 project.

County Librarian Helen Fried said the project is estimated to cost $266,450.

But it could also cost the branch, unless adjustments are made to the county’s method of allocating funds.

Funding is based on a formula that includes property taxes, population and patronage — how many people use the library.

With the doors closed for three months, patronage obviously will take a hit.

The Friends will contribute a total of $137,000 for the project, including $75,000 for the lighting.

No wonder the county relented when asked by the Friends not to close the book store for the whole three months of the project.

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“We told them it would cost us a lot of revenue and they reconsidered,” Lydick said.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the Friends have stepped up to the plate, exceeding their annual $20,000 commitment for the purchase of books and materials. .

The Friends came to the rescue in 2005, when the county was forced to reduce funding for the branch by $30,000 from the 1999-2000 allotment.

In 2006, the Friends helped pay for outdoor renovations to the 33-year-old building that included painting and re-landscaping.

The group organized a collaborative effort in which the city, the Chamber of Commerce, Coastline Pilot garden columnist Steve Kawaratani, Hearts of Montage, Athens Group, Laguna Beach County Water District and the Friends participated.

The Friends kicked in $25,000 to paint the building.

“It was a real community effort,” Lydick said — even if some community members objected to the color scheme.

Former Branch Manager Marianna Hof chose the soft blue paint.

An artist-designed bench, a project of the Arts Commission, was installed at the bus stop just outside the library doors, adding whimsy to the ambience.

The Friends took action in January 2007 when the county library officials floated a proposal to expand a “floating collection” system in which patron-requested books would not be returned to the branch from which they were borrowed.

Library patrons can submit requests for any book not available at their own branch. Traditionally, each branch retains ownership of the books in their collections and borrowed books are returned. Under the floating collection concept, the tide would run only one way, which county officials said would save money.

“We were up in arms,” Lydick said. “We went so far as to threaten to pull out of the system and become an independent library like other cities have.”

“[The late] Doris Shields swore if that unless the county abandoned the proposal she would never donate another cent to the library. And she wasn’t the only one.

“As far as I am concerned, the books belong where they were bought. How can we expect people to donate money, if the books won’t stay here?”

The Friends’ charter is to buy books and materials for the Laguna Beach Library.

The group depends on donations, the general meeting and autographed book auction, membership dues, and bookstore sales for its revenue.

“We now have — oh probably — 500 members,” Lydick said. “Everyone in town should belong. So remember — ask a friend to be a Friend.”

Later in 2007, the contrast between the spiffy new exterior of the branch and the shabby, interior began to grate.

Criticism by patron Anita Razin about the uninspired décor in the children’s reading room where she habitually took her two children started the library staff looking at the interior from a different perspective.

And just look at what that has wrought.

“We raised the money for the exterior work with the help of the community and the city,” Lydick said.

“Now the interior needs work.”

For more information about the Friends, to join or to make a donation, call (949) 497-7053.


OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com


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