By Jeff Clemetson
On Nov. 18, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion held by La Mesa Conversations and La Mesa Friends of the Library called “The Town Library: A Valuable Community Partner?”
The panel, which included Jose Aponte, director of San Diego County Library; Kimberly Gallo, executive director of First 5 San Diego; Betty Waznis, director of Chula Vista Public Library; and Lemon Grove Library Branch Manager Elizabeth Vagani, shared its passion for libraries and the programs they offer to the public. The panelists also discussed why it is important to invest in libraries. Specifically, why we should invest in a new library in La Mesa.
According to an agreement reached in 2005 between La Mesa and San Diego County, La Mesa will either have to build a permanent library or pay back San Diego County for the property that housed the old library and now houses the La Mesa police station.
Although the library was moved into its current space next to the La Mesa post office in 2008, La Mesa will still be on the hook for paying for the county land unless the city is able to attain funding for a permanent library by March 14, 2018. The cost of the property will be assessed at its 2018 value.
Building a library will cost money and so one way to look at the discussion we had was really to answer the question: Will it be worth it?
I believe the answer is: Yes.
La Mesans use their library in surprising numbers. The La Mesa Library is the busiest branch in the county in terms of traffic per square foot. The library has the the third highest circulation of books in the San Diego County Library system, which is the fourth largest system in the country. And it would serve even more people if it was bigger.
Libraries today do more than just house books. Important programs such as literacy for adults, after-school activities for children, programs for seniors, parenting classes and more are all held at the library.
The problem with La Mesa’s current space is that it can only offer one program at a time. In a larger, permanent home, the library could have multiple programs throughout the day, making them easier to schedule for people to attend. A larger library could also be used for other civic functions like city meetings, police seminars and more.
Paying for a new library is a matter of political will and the panelists at the La Mesa Conversations discussion urged people who attended to be the “squeaky wheel” in order to get the grease needed to make funding a new library a priority.
There are many ways to fund building projects like libraries –– partnerships with private entities, grants and endowments, for example. However, it is most likely that to build the library, there will need to be some kind of bond measure to ensure the funding will be there to satisfy the agreement between the La Mesa and the county.
Either way, La Mesa has less than three years to make a decision and get the funds it needs to build the library or it will still be paying for the one it has now. In essence, paying for a library building that was never designed to be one.
I would urge La Mesans to not be short-sighted and throw away the opportunity to build a library for the city that matches the use our branch already gets. We can either invest in the library of the future or pay for the library of the past.
––Write to Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.