Beyond normal duties: San Diego Libraries

The wildfires that devoured great chunks of San Diego County starting Sunday October 26, 2003, didn’t get San Diego’s mountain libraries, but they came close.

Marilyn Crouch, director of the San Diego County Library, commended the entire San Diego County Library staff on November 7, 2003 “for working so well as a team and pitching in where needed.” Crouch reported that four staff lost their homes and in one week San Diego staff had contributed $4,155 for their colleagues “to start the process of recovery”.

In the fire’s aftermath, San Diego’s rural libraries - the Julian, Lakeside and Crest branches particularly - evolved into more than just places for patrons to borrow books and log-on to the internet. The libraries became safe havens with information tables stocked with application forms from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other relief agencies. And San Diego’s library staff became more than information specialists: they became relief liaisons.

In Crest, for example, the fire ( came within only a half block of the tiny library. Two hundred and twenty of Crest’s 966 homes burned to the ground. When Elisa James, Crest’s branch operations manager, was able to return to the facility on Wednesday, there was no electricity - no lights, no computers. But, James said, “ I came anyway…people needed somewhere to go…somewhere to tell their stories.” Far from “shushing” people, James and her colleague, Elizabeth Lucas, “welcomed” that talk. James said that she and the rural library team “ knew that people were not interested in checking out books. They just needed to be there.”

The Crest library, like all San Diego “back country” libraries, opened for three consecutive Mondays so residents could have access to the Internet and use the telephone, luxuries in the fire-ravaged community. “Our purpose was to help the community; not add to their burden,” said James.

Of related interest:  Julian Library

In Julian, where the Julian Library also came within a half block of burning, construction has continued undeterred for a new Julian library. The facility, of which $2.4 million is funded by the 2000 Bond Act, and administered by the Office of Library Construction of the California State Library, will be a "joint use" library for this rural San Diego town.



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