Jeff Clemetson | Editor
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the La Mesa Library moving into its temporary location at 8074 Allison Ave. The temporary location was given to the library after a 2005 agreement between the city and the San Diego County Library (SDCL) after the city took its old location to house the La Mesa Police station, with the promise to build a new La Mesa branch library sometime in the future. In June of 2008, the library opened in its current digs.
At the May 22 City Council meeting, La Mesa Library branch manager Heather Pisani-Kristl presented an update on the library and how it has fared in the temporary location. She noted that the temporary location’s 10,000 square feet is now at capacity and as the city grows, the temporary location will not be adequate to serve the residents of La Mesa.
According to Pisani-Kristl’s presentation, last year alone, more than 750,000 items were borrowed from the library. In the past 10 years, the library has averaged 290,000 visitors a year. In addition to lending books and other items, the library’s 18 public computers and wireless internet served 64,425 online sessions.
There have been 952 programs serving 18,400 customers. Programs include education, health and wellness, youth and families, school visits, and civic engagement programs such as citizenship classes. The library is also a polling site.
Last year alone, volunteers donated 3,000 hours to the library. The La Mesa Friends of the Library group have given more than $15,000 per year to fund programs and purchase materials.
The point is, the library is busy and will continue to get busier as La Mesa grows. Which is why the city needs to once and for all commit to delivering on its now 13-year old promise to build a new and much larger library.
The need is already there. Although the library increased in size by 26 percent compared to its old location, average borrowing at the library increased 60 percent over 10 years, average visits increased 21 percent, and programs and events increased a whopping 112 percent, making La Mesa one of the busiest libraries in the SDCL system.
Other new libraries recently built in the SDCL system provide room to grow. A library that opened in 2016 in Alpine, with a population of around 9,000 residents, has 12,900 square feet of space, including a meeting room and outdoor deck. A library in Imperial Beach, with a population of around 27,000, that opened in 2017 has 14,400 square feet and includes a meeting room. A library in the small town of Borrego Springs that is currently under construction will have 13,500 square feet of space.
La Mesa’s roughly 60,000 residents are being short-changed by its less than adequate library. Neighboring Santee — which has a similar population to La Mesa — has proposed a library that is 20,000 to 24,000 square feet.
As La Mesa’s City Council and city staff continue exploring updating and expanding the City Civic Center, a permanent and larger library should no longer be in the “maybe” column and instead be made a priority. The residents have proven they have the will to use a new library, the city should prove it has the will to build one.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.