November 18, 2016

Months ago, when Commercial Savings Bank board chairman Pat Moehn stood in front of the Carroll City Council and announced a “million-dollar offer” — use of the bank’s building to end a decade of deadlock and allow the city’s library to expand — he cited an unexpected inspiration.

The San Diego Central Library.

He’d visited San Diego recently, he said, and a friend there didn’t want to take Moehn to restaurants or the beach — he wanted to show off the city library.

“We got there, and that place was absolutely a beehive of activity,” Moehn said to the council in February. “There were people among rows of books, people on computers, people taking classes — it was the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long time, how active and how vibrant that library was.”

And there in San Diego, his mind turned back to Carroll.

“I can see the same thing happening here in Carroll, especially with the leadership you have with our library director,” he said.

Although current library director Brandie Ledford announced this week she’s leaving at the end of the year for the opportunity to live closer to extended family, she’s still hopeful about the Carroll Public Library’s future as the city continues to examine possibilities for expansion that incorporate the bank’s offer.

So am I.

And so is Bob Cronk, deputy director for public services at the San Diego Public Library system, whom I chatted with Thursday.

This conversation wasn’t entirely altruistic, I should admit.

I love libraries.

I’ve grown up in them, in the half-dozen cities where my family has lived. When I studied abroad in Spain and worked in Israel, I frequented the local libraries. When I was growing up and my local library offered annual book sales where you could fill a large paper bag with books for $3, I walked away each year with a half dozen bags.

Libraries were and are a big part of my childhood, my family and my life.

And these days, I spend a lot of time at the Carroll Public Library.

I love it.

I also love the thought of all it could become.

Whether you’re looking at San Diego’s library or Carroll’s, Ledford and Cronk agree that every library needs space to meet, to teach and to convene — whether it’s serving thousands or millions.

“Just about any librarian you talk to that has gone through a renovation will tell you people want space,” Cronk said. “They want community, they want a place to meet, they want a place to commune.”

Here’s what I’ve found out about the California library that inspired Moehn, from perusing its website and speaking with Cronk.

This massive nine-story downtown facility is 366,673 square feet, with a 320-seat auditorium and a 333-seat multipurpose room and 22 study rooms. It has more than 5.3 million books — 265,295 of those in 25 languages other than English. It has more than 3,000 periodical subscriptions and 1.6 million government documents.

That alone is mind-boggling.

But the library also partners with the San Diego Workforce Partnership to help people find jobs, has within it the e3 Civic High School, has a makerspace with vinyl cutters and 3D printers, hosts Comic-Con International and offers computer coding for kids, swing dancing, movie showings, adult spelling bees, a program about the trafficking of young women in San Diego and another program to help people repair their bicycles.

But this library and Carroll’s aren’t so different, Cronk said — especially when it comes to what they’ll both need to continue offering in the future.

“Whether it’s your town or ours, libraries are the center of communities,” he said.

In addition to meeting spaces — which are huge for libraries — the facilities also will continue to offer access to information — whether that’s through books or cutting-edge technology, Cronk said, citing people who visit the San Diego library to use its internet or to borrow the 3D printers to build prototypes for their businesses.

“(Libraries have) always been the great equalizer in terms of information and access to information,” he said. “That will be true going forward. We’ll continue to be those information centers as information changes and as information gets more expensive — we’ll continue to offer it.”

When my best friend and I travel, we make a point to visit libraries. The George Washington Carver branch of the Austin (Texas) Public Library is high on our to-visit list. I’ve wandered public libraries in Iowa City, Denver and more — and, this summer, spurred by Moehn’s account, we dropped in on the San Diego Central Library.

I get why Moehn was inspired. I was, too. We spent hours wandering the nine stories, checking out old books, magazines and newspapers, music scores, art and baseball installations, meeting spaces, technology and more.

Ours is a bit smaller, but it fills many of the same needs for Carroll County.

The Carroll Public Library offers a variety of programs for kids, ranging from storytime to learning about outer space. It provides a place for adults to use computers, to apply for jobs or complete their taxes, to read or to knit. It has online services ranging from ebooks and free music to educational games to home-improvement and auto-repair services.

It’ll continue to offer more.

The San Diego Central Library went through a similar process about a decade ago as Carroll’s did — it needed to expand but wasn’t sure how to do it or how to pay for it.

The current showpiece that is the San Diego Central Library is a result of cooperation between the library and the city, private organizations and school districts.

“It was a difficult time to pull it off, but people came together,” Cronk said.

I can’t wait to see that happen for Carroll’s library.