“Is this not Cambria’s best Christmas gift ever?” Christine Heinrichs asked rhetorically, soon after the town’s 5,800-square-foot library building opened to the public for the first time on Thursday.
Heinrichs seemed to speak for the several dozen people who arrived during the library’s first hour of business at 1043 Main St., about a block away from the 2,331-square-foot older facility at 900 Main St. where patrons had checked out books since 1981.
The new library is across from the Veterans Memorial Building, and the combination provides a true community center area, supporters said.
The first-hour patrons at the new library ranged in age from 6 to late 80s. Among them were students, writers, business people, farmers, researchers, a county supervisor and quite a few seniors. All appeared to be quietly exultant about the new building — after all, quiet is supposed to be pro forma in a library.
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Staff had expected opening day would be busy. A monthlong closure of the previous facility delayed due dates for most books checked out in November.
Working toward a bigger facility has been an intense community effort for a couple of decades.
Expenses for any new library are split 50-50 between the county and community members. The Friends of the Cambria Library nonprofit has worked tirelessly, hosting dinners and other events, selling thousands of used books, sponsoring “treasure” sales and using other customary and innovative fundraising methods to provide their half of the approximately $4 million cost for Cambria’s new facility.
The new library has 14 book “stacks” or sets of shelves, row after row of digital media, plus a couple of displays of “Express books” provided by the Friends group (newer, popular books that are loaned out for shorter periods). Lower shelves on many of the book stacks are angled, to make it easier to read titles and remove books. There’s elbow room between the stacks, and six public computer stations are available for research and other uses.
Large areas are dedicated to books for children, teens and Spanish-speaking readers, plus a Friends room from which donated books and other materials can be sold.
The new building has more creature comforts, too. Wrap-around windows brighten most of three sides of the structure, and soft, warm light streams in through diffusing solar tubes and from what the county’s Library Director Chris Barnickel called “cutting-edge LED lighting.”
Thursday’s was a “soft opening,” Cambria Librarian Joen Kommer said. “It’s a work in progress,” with tasks remaining to be done and dreams yet to be realized.
But it’s already a huge improvement, said the first patrons.
Sherry Andrews did a little happy dance as she passed by the check-out desk. “Oh, my God!” she said. “This is so beautiful!”
Bonnie Spencer called it a “momentous occasion. This is absolutely stunning. Wow! It’s almost putting tears in my eyes.” As she wandered, she said the new building was so much larger that “you almost need a map!”
Emily Reed, 6, said she and her sister Elizabeth Reed, 8, came that day to “see different books, look around and see what’s here.”
“We’re so excited,” said their mom, Mindy Reed. “I was told by the girls that we had to be here the day it opened.”
Supervisor Bruce Gibson called the opening “fantastic, too sweet, too good.” He had championed the new library and came to enjoy the result, check out some DVDs and accompany his octogenarian parents, Jack and Jane Gibson. They promptly applied for the library cards they’ve never had. “We’re farmers,” Jack said. “We’ve been too busy raising avocados.”
The Cambria branch is one of the county’s most heavily used libraries per capita with 4,000 cardholders checking out 10,000 items per month. Established in 1921 in the first of several other locations, the library has survived for the past three decades in increasingly cramped quarters with limited parking space.
If you go
The Friends of the Cambria Library nonprofit has scheduled a community celebration at the town’s new library, 1043 Main St., starting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29.