With reopening, Pomona Public Library is back in circulation

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When California reopens Tuesday, so will the Pomona Public Library, for the first time since March 2020. We’ll see a number of improvements: a new entry, circulation desk and mural.

And here’s another change: With the tint newly stripped from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the entrance, the library should actually look open.

Meant to make computer screens readable at the circulation desk, which backed up to the windows, the tint also blocked the view in or out. Was the library open or closed? Sometimes you couldn’t tell until the automatic doors slid open — or didn’t.

“It was horrible. It looked closed,” says Mark Gluba, the deputy city manager who doubles as library director. “We pulled it down,” he says of the tint, “and everyone was in awe of the view they’d been missing.”

What I’d been missing was the Pomona Public Library, my favorite civic institution in the city.

Pomona has one of the oldest and best libraries in the region. But it’s been chronically underfunded in recent years, chugging along on what Scotty on “Star Trek” would call impulse power, with about half the hours of a typical library.

After chronicling those travails, including two failed campaigns to raise taxes to put the library on firmer footing, I’m pleased to tell you that the library is finally on an upward trajectory.

First there are physical improvements, $376,000 worth, courtesy of a state library grant, a donation from the nonprofit Pomona Library Foundation, public art dollars and city funds.

The most visible is a cheerful new entry, with so-called luxury vinyl plank flooring, new glass and paint, and a gleaming circulation and reference desk, all in a lighter palette, that will face patrons as they enter.

“The whole idea is to make the library a more friendly place,” says Duane Smith, president of the foundation.

Soft furniture is coming for the entry as well as monitors on which programming can air. Due to supply-chain issues, none of that arrived in time. Ditto for the all-new computers destined for the computer lab. The mural is here, though.

“The Sun, The Moon, The Stars and Everything” by Athena Hahn enlivens a formerly bare wall in the Children’s Room. It was installed last July but the public hasn’t seen it yet. The panorama features book spines and children at play. Most are real patrons of the library whom Hahn incorporated into the scene.

When I visited for a tour last Wednesday, Crystal Orosco, the raven-tressed and tattooed children’s librarian, was pumped about the reopening.

“I can’t wait to see all these little patrons come back,” says Orosco, whose desk has a nameplate reading Head Wizard and who is known among the pint-sized set as Miss Crystal.

Storytime will return later in June and the summer reading program in July, both likely to take place outdoors under a shady tree.

The library’s closure allowed construction to take place this spring unimpeded. Gluba says the planned early June opening was delayed to June 15 — the end of most statewide restrictions — to avoid erecting plastic barriers and spaced seating.

Due to coronavirus, the facility was closed completely last spring and early summer. Meanwhile, in the unusual timing that is the underdog city’s hallmark, Pomona hired a new library services manager, essentially the head librarian, in the middle of the pandemic.

“I distinctly remember a conversation in which she said, ‘Do you still want me to come?’” Gluba recounts. “I said, ‘Not only do we still want you to come, we need you to come.’”

Anita Torres’ first day was July 6. No one was at the library. She met her staff via Zoom.

Some of the staff was called back in August. The library launched PPL To-Go, in which patrons could reserve books and pick them up. (To show my support, I was the first.) A new library bin was installed that accepts other media, like DVDs and audiobooks, allowing more materials to circulate. The service was so popular that its hours of service doubled.

Storytime programs were presented virtually. Laptops and internet hot spots were loaned out, an aid to students. The library’s scant digital offerings were beefed up by switching providers and digital library cards were instituted.

“Libraries are so very relevant, despite what you might hear on the streets,” Torres says.

A surprise service caught on: printing.

“Printing turned out to be one of the biggest needs we met. People would email us their print jobs. We got everything: job applications, rental applications, COVID test results, taxes, school assignments,” Torres says.

One patron seeking a food handling license had the library print a series of documents over time: protocols, study guides, test results. “We were basically on her journey with her,” Torres says. “She emailed us in all caps: ‘I PASSED!’ She asked us to print her certificate so she could apply for her job.”

Torres, 41, has worked for libraries in Burbank and Calabasas. “I feel there’s so much opportunity here to make a difference,” she says of Pomona.

Two longtime staffers retired, Debra Acosta and Yolanda Mejia (our best to them both). What with a slight boost to its $1.1 million budget, the library will be able to increase staff and service hours from 29 hours per week to 34 starting in August.

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