Monterey County Free Libraries celebrates 100 years of service
Thursday, February 9, 2012
One hundred years ago, the RMS Titanic set off on its first and last voyage; the African National Congress, which today governs South Africa, was founded; Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures started operations; and European explorers first reached the South Pole. You can read about all that history at the Monterey County Free Libraries, which was established by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors…100 years ago.
Its enduring symbol: a sepia-tone photograph of its first librarian, Anne Hadden, perched on back of a burro, circa 1916, as testament to her faithfulness to deliver the library’s services near and far.
This Saturday, the MCFL system kicks off a year-long celebration of its centennial with a party at its Marina branch, with cake, music, crafts and a historical presentation (the actual birth date of the system will arrive in August). And though its history, like the size of the county it serves (3,200 square miles), is vast, historical self-reflection has been a smaller concern than serving its current constituents.
“One of the big problems,” says County Librarian Jayanti Addleman, “is we don’t have [archives] that are all together. We have a rich history and we need to put it together.”
Remnants of the libraries’ winding and enduring past include a 1915 photograph of the dirt pen of an old A-frame dairy farm seemingly in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by cows and several people staring quizzically at the camera. This was the Soledad branch, near the former ruins of the Soledad Mission.
Another photograph shows a weathered, cabin-like home flanked by a thick grove of oaks; on its sloping porch stands a woman in a long skirt and leather ankle boots, and a grizzled old man with a white beard, pants cinched up high by suspenders, and a hermit’s crabby expression. A cat and chicken also appear in the scene. This is the Palo Colorado branch, dated 1929.
In the 1920s, the system was operating out of 105 locations, including private homes, businesses, post offices, schools and fire stations.
“Today, our [mission] is to get to all of our communities by whatever means necessary,” Addleman says. The branches stretch from Pajaro in North County to Bradley and Parkfield in South County. Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Salinas opted to run their libraries at the city level, because they believed they could better serve their local constituents and fund their libraries. The 17 county libraries, though, far outnumber them, serving about 220,000 people with a full- and part-time staff of about 70, including 16 credentialed librarians and an army of volunteers.
Every outpost retains personality. South County’s San Ardo branch looks like an Old West general store, ready to sell chaw to prospectors. The Soledad branch is a sprawling ode to California’s missions, with a faux church tower, a wing that looks like a church sanctuary, and neatly laid Spanish-tile roofing. The Pajaro branch is basically a Victorian house, a three-story remnant of the past, complete with porches, window nooks and a haunted look about it.
“Each one is unique,” Addleman says. “I just love going to each branch.”
The Buena Vista branch sits in a well-to-do foothill neighborhood in Spreckels, a cylindrical building of exposed beams shaped like an umbrella with a skylight at its apex. Supervising Librarian Jane Wallace runs the branch with one other full-time employee and buys children’s books for the county.
“It feels like a mom-and-pop,” she says. “We run on a small budget but we give a lot of good services. The kids get turned on so brightly.”
Those services—in addition to nearly 1 million books, movies, DVDs and other publications—include popular computer stations with high-speed Internet; 10 homework centers; remotely accessible mail and bookmobile aids; story times for kids and meeting space for adults; and interlibrary sharing.
They’re fueled by a budget of $7 million from a 1 percent take on property taxes in their service areas, augmented by the Foundation for Monterey Public Free Libraries and 10 individually run volunteer Friends of the Library groups. And it’s not by accident that the word “free” is embedded in the system’s name.
“The American Library Association has a very strong statement about the right to read and view material,” Addleman says. “We take our role as stewards of democracy seriously.”
So wrapped in its mission to “Inform, Delight and Inspire,” is the right to read. How’s that for a legacy worth noting?
The Monterey County Free Libraries begins its Centennial celebrations 1-4pm Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Marina branch, 190 Seaside Circle, Marina. Free. www.MontereyCountyFreeLibraries.org.