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Shut for Remodeling : It's a Closed Book at Main Library in Santa Monica

August 21, 1986|TRACEY KAPLAN | Times Staff Writer

Retiree Agnes Brown rushed to finish the last two pages of her book before the Santa Monica Main Library closed.

Snapping the book shut just minutes before deadline, she hobbled to the circulation desk for the last time until the library reopens in August, 1987.

"Going to the library is my whole life, and I've been very sad about it being closed up," said Brown, who uses a cane to walk the four blocks from her apartment to the library on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 6th Street.

The Westside's largest public library shut down Saturday for remodeling and removal of asbestos from its ceiling. The bulk of its 300,000-item collection will be put in storage, said city librarian Carol Aronoff.

The three branches of the public library system remain open and will expand their schedules to include Fridays after Sept. 8 to accommodate additional users, Brown was told by librarians.

But that didn't satisfy the lover of texts written in Old English.

"It's going to be very difficult for me to get books anywhere else because they're so heavy for me to carry," she said. "I don't want to have to go anywhere else."

50,000 Patrons

Brown's attitude was typical of many of the library's 50,000 patrons, who have dropped in at the increasingly cramped, two-story building a few times a week since it was built in 1965, said Elizabeth Reyes, a library page.

"People have been a little cranky the last two weeks," she said. "All of us try to avoid the circulation desk because that's where you have to tell people they can't take out books because we're closing."

The circulation desk was piled high with books late Saturday afternoon as patrons rushed to return materials before the end of the fine-free period, which was set up to encourage the quick return of all materials.

"Is there any way I could read some more of this book?" asked John Roberts, 37, a screenwriter and thrice-weekly library user. He was reading "Fruit Palace" by Charles Nicholl. "You can't find this book just anywhere."

Much to his satisfaction, Roberts was allowed to take the book home. Carroll said the amnesty period has been extended to Aug. 30.

She said that in addition to obscure titles such as the one Roberts was reading, the library has a particularly good collection of periodicals, some dating back to the early years of the century. They will be moved into storage until the library reopens.

Quieter Than Usual

Except for the last-minute pandemonium in the lobby, it was quieter than usual all day inside the cool building, said Emery Guillory, one of 41 full-time employees.

All employees, including 64 additional part-time workers, will be reassigned to the branches and temporary quarters in the Santa Monica Airport administration building, Aronoff said.

"It's been a strange day," Guillory said. "Normally, we're really busy on Saturdays, but there's been a somber undercurrent around here all day."

Shafts of late afternoon sunlight lent a solemn air to the cathedral-like main floor of the library, with its high ceilings and exposed beams.

In the center of the tableau, Pablo Ortega, 27, bent over his books almost as if mourning.

"'Today I am so sad," said Ortega, a bus boy from Mexico who added that his English has improved with regular library use. "I learned no books can go out, and I wish it would stay open 100%."

But over in the films and recordings department, Ludwig Barowoj, 36, a Venice architect, was oblivious to the imminent closure. He was off in a corner flipping through records.

"No!" he boomed when he heard the news. "You're kidding. . . . I work downtown, and that (library) just burned. . . . "

(An arsonist's fire April 29 at the Central Library resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of volumes.)

Back at the circulation desk, the clerks seemed somewhat touched by the emotion of closing day. They braced themselves for the final announcement over the public address system. Someone suggested announcing it had all been a big joke--that there was no asbestos in the ceiling.

Asbestos, mixed with plaster, had been used as fire retardant when the library was built 22 years ago. Although testing showed that the level of asbestos fibers was below the federal Environmental Protection Agency limit, many library employees feared that they might contract asbestosis, a deadly lung disease caused by inhaling asbeqtos fibers.

Removal of the asbestos and expansion of the library made her more glad than sad, Carroll said. "It's better than having the ceiling literally hanging over our heads," she said.

The project, originally planned for July, was delayed while the city considered building another library, but residents supported renovating the existing, centrally located building.

The work will cost about $2.16 million, including about $400,000 worth of remodeling, said Stanely E. Scholl, director of the city of Santa Monica's General Services Department.

When the final announcement of closing came Saturday, a hush fell over the library. Patrons hurried out.

A book lay propped up on an exit table for them to see. The title: "Closing Time."

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