Reflections amid the loud murmurs of community libraries

The San Diego county library system has 33 branches in neighborhoods from Jacumba to Julian, Vista to Bonita as well as a couple of Bookmobiles. Despite design differences, all of them serve the same purpose: they provide free resources for the community with trained help on hand. Alongside the county system, cities like Chula Vista and National City maintain their own libraries with individual community identities. When children enter the Otay Ranch Town Center branch library, the displays are staged like those at the nearby Barnes and Noble bookstore; the National City library is located near city hall and suggests a connection between learning, leadership and a vibrant downtown.

Jessica Brodkin Webb

About 20 minutes up state route 125, the Lakeside library is an aging facility with visible water damage but a lovely lakefront view from the children’s section; it is being replaced by a new facility that promises modular spacing and low-water landscaping just ten minutes walking distance from the current building. The project has already received flak, before even opening, from local residents with two primary complaints repeatedly put forth in unofficial social media commentary: the county is funding an upgrade to a space frequently used by homeless people and the building does not fit the character of the community.

I’ve yet to see anyone take issue with the dollars spent on electrical outlets which can be used to charge a cellular phone, have not heard of one person questioning the presumably free toilet paper likely to be stocked in publicly available bathrooms, don’t think I’ve heard any resident ask whether the free internet should be limited to those who pay rent or a mortgage on a monthly basis. Rather, the first complaint seems to be Homeless (capital ‘H’) presence without any granular objection. The second complaint, that the library design does not reflect the community, is more challenging because roughly 50 residents out of the 20,000 who live in that community turned up at the July 2020 public meeting intended to solicit feedback before construction began.

However, both complaints are valid in their own way and in a strange twist, perfectly reflect the core of a library. They come from wanting a better community and, if I may make the leap, I’d posit that many people are uncomfortable around an obviously-homeless individual because it forces questions: what happened? Am I in danger? Why doesn’t somebody do something? Why are they here? Why them and not me?

There is an element of judgment involved but there is also observing and questioning and perhaps a bit of frustration. There is fact in the form of an undeniable human being and what could be more appropriate for a library than knowledge?

Apart from design, there are library events planned for all of October, ripe with learning opportunities and a chance to question where we fit into our communities.

•The Chula Vista branch library is holding a kids’ Halloween skull craft event from 4 to 5 p.m. on Oct. 11.
• Adults can create paper wreaths at an Oct. 13 workshop from 4:30 to 5:30 at the Otay Ranch branch library.
•The Otay Ranch branch library also offers homework help for teens every Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m.
• The Otay Ranch branch library will hold Filipino History Month story time from 10:15 to 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 18.
• All ages are welcome to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos all day long on Oct. 26 at the South Chula Vista branch library.
The National City library will celebrate Filipino Heritage month from 2 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 15 with crafts, games and prizes.
• Every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. older residents are invited to the Senior Socials with coffee, crafts, games and senior tech help at the National City library.
• STEAM Saturday is happening Oct. 21 at the National City library. Meet from 2 to 3 p.m. in the large meeting room.
• Join ghosts, goblins and ghouls of all ages from 1 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the National City library for a Halloween Booktacular. A creepy, crawly animal show will be presented from 3 to 4 p.m.