(L to R): Judy Williams, Jerry Hotz, Gerri Morrison, Rita Glick, and Ian Ritterspach
7265 Jackson Drive, San Diego
Forty-one years after the January 9, 1974, opening of the San Carlos branch library, patrons can eat, drink, and talk in the library. Those activities are allowed, and food and beverages are provided, in the San Carlos Chat Room that "opened" January 9, 2015, in the Winer Family Community Room & Art Gallery. That day, a blue cart in the room held a coffee pot, a pot with hot water for Earl Grey or Lipton tea, cups, and a four-pound container of Kirkland organic animal crackers.
The Friends of the San Carlos Library funded those items, said branch manager Rita Glick. A 25-cent donation is requested. "We're hoping [to be] self-sufficient," she said during a 3 p.m. opening-day interview. "As luck would have it, we were able to begin on the 41st birthday."
The community room becomes the Chat Room when it's not in use, a designation indicated by a sign on the door that reads, "Come In & Enjoy."
Community-room activities include the Friday-morning toddler and preschool storytime that sparked the idea for the coffee room. When storytime ended, Glick said the noise level rose as energetic children and their parents left the room. "Last year, I heard two moms saying, 'Let's go to Starbucks,' " said Glick. She decided to offer a closer alternative and came up with the Chat Room name. "In here, you can eat, drink, and use your cell phone."
Friends president Judy Williams said, "There are so many times in the library, you see somebody and want to talk. You don't want to disturb anybody."
Asked how the staff will ensure silence outside the room, Glick said, "We'll keep the doors closed. I don't ever expect that it will get noisier than it does during meetings" like the San Carlos Area Council meetings. And if there are noise complaints, the staff will intervene.
Ian Ritterspach, a library patron "for about 30 years," mentioned a noise irritant never imagined in 1974: "People at computers with the speakers on." Of the Chat Room, he said, "Anything that gets people in here is great."
Williams suggested getting puzzles and stuffed animals for children to play with in the room. She and Glick agreed on juice boxes as a beverage option for the younger set. They also discussed asking a San Carlos man to make a two-sided plywood easel so children could express themselves with crayons.
Ritterspach said, "Kids are the key. Make sure they feel they're at home."
Also in the Chat Room was Gerri Morrison, who's lived in the "area for 40-some years." She looked around and said, "I love this room; it's airier."
Later that afternoon, Friends board members Sue and Jerry Hotz talked about improvements to the room. These included painting a portion of the wall blue and installing signs with information about library supporters. Last November, the room was rededicated to honor three generations of the Winer Family. The late Jack Winer served as president of the local Friends group and the larger Friends of the San Diego Public Library. In 1997, he created the student-essay contest. Winer was also instrumental in City of San Diego efforts to acquire land for a larger library.
Glick said the new-library project is undergoing a redesign and is estimated to cost $19 million. The city council allocated $1 million in fiscal year 2015, but the construction phase is unfunded. "We are fundraising and keep looking for a large donor," she said.
Proposed amenities include a community room for more than 300 people and several smaller rooms; the current room's capacity is 30 people.
That afternoon, the doors were open and there were no complaints. When people looked inside, they were invited in. Darcy Chambers accepted the invitation. "I would shrivel up without a library," she said.
Sue Hotz asked her what may become a typical Chat Room conversation-starter: "How many books per week do you read?"