What kind of community reflected in library complaints?

Jessica Brodkin Webb

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. Some, like the Santee branch, are essentially storefront locations tucked between a breakfast joint and a cupcakery while others like the Alpine branch have meeting rooms, a Poet’s Patio and a large computer room. Despite design differences, all of them serve the same purpose: they provide free resources for the community with trained help on hand.

The entire system falls under the county Land Use and Environment group, a two-fold offering of both a physical use of land and a collection designed to improve one’s environment, the conditions under which a person operates.

The Lakeside library, an aging facility with visible water damage but a lovely lakefront view from the children’s section is being replaced by a new facility that promises modular spacing and low-water landscaping just 10 minutes walking distance from the current building.

On one hand, it is a shame to lose the connection between the children’s playground, the community center, and the library, a trifecta of learning and play and personal development. On the other hand, the new location is closer to the school district office and holds the promise of public meeting space. Regardless, 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 Lakeside turned up at the July 2020 public meeting intended to solicit community 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?

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?

Whether or not county residents pass through the old Lakeside library, the spacious Alpine library, rural Potrero library or any other branch, there are events planned for the county library system throughout East County.

•Family Storytime is happening at the Lakeside library from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 20 with all ages welcome to join in for singing and dancing.
•Adults with disabilities and their caregivers can enjoy weekly music, movement, crafting, and social opportunities every Wednesday at the Lakeside library from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m. A certified yoga instructor will lead the group in Chair Yoga on Oct. 26.
• The La Mesa library is hosting Write Out Loud San Diego actor Walter Ritter as he reads a variety of entertaining short stories and poems for adults from 1 to 2 p.m. on Oct. 13.
• Also, the La Mesa library staff will lead a discussion on this year’s One Book, One San Diego title, “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett from 1 to 2 p.m. on Oct. 19.
• The El Cajon library offers recurring and regular meetups where LGBTQ+ teens, ages 12-17 can socialize in a safe space every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
•A Construction Junction will be set up on Oct. 8 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the El Cajon library with craft activities and building challenges with LEGO bricks, geared for kids ages four and up, offered by local high school students.
• Whodunit? Find out at the El Cajon library book club on Oct. 11 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs will have representatives on site from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 14 at the El Cajon library with support services available to military, veterans, survivors, and dependents including counseling, transition assistance, home loans, education and employment information.
• Need tech help? The Santee library has one-on-one help available from 4 to 5:30 p.m on Oct. 12. Bring your device for help with eBooks, Macs, PCs, tablets, and more.
• The Santee library offers toddler storytime from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Thursday with stories, songs, playtime and fun for the littlest readers.
• They also offer preschool storytime from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Friday with a focus on building early reading skills, learning to follow directions, and enjoying social time.
• Heaven’s Windows will be providing snacks and light meals every day from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Lemon Grove library, free for anyone 18 years or younger while supplies last.
• Also at the Lemon Grove library, I Love A Clean San Diego, is hosting a Zero Waste presentation at the Lemon Grove Library from 10 to 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 8 to discuss how residents can help conserve and enhance the environment.

Visit www.sdcl.org for information on these and other San Diego County branch library events happening in October.

You can email Jessica at: jessica@integritynews.us with comments and suggestions.