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Check It Out : Libraries Aren't Just for Books Anymore


The automatic doors of the Carlsbad City Library slide back to reveal the comforting presence of books waiting to be opened, the quiet tapping on computer keyboards and the orderly business of materials being checked out.

But this is not exactly an oasis from the madding crowd.

The library parking lot is full, and seemingly everyone south of San Clemente is inside. Here, proof abounds that libraries aren't just for books anymore. They also trade in compact discs, videotapes, audio cassettes, books on tape, records and framed art--available at $3 for 3 months.

Three North County cities--Carlsbad, Oceanside and Escondido--maintain their own libraries. Although none has been handed a blank check to pay for operating expenses, each is thriving. They are not, like the San Diego City Library, gasping for air.

While San Diegans are stalled on the issue of whether or not to build a new central library, Oceanside is settling into brand-new quarters, Carlsbad is ready to break ground on a new building, and Escondido, with a facility only 10 years old, is looking toward expansion in the next few years.

In addition to North County's three city libraries, there are 14 branch libraries under the umbrella of the San Diego County Public Library System.

The branches are much smaller and operate on shoestring budgets, some on less than $11,000 a year. These libraries--in communities from Fallbrook to Rancho Penasquitos--have smaller collections and can stay open less.

The independent status of the city libraries has given them a variety of funding options, whereas the county libraries must rely on a set percentage of property tax revenue.

Still, each of North County's libraries, from the large to the small, reflects the character of the community it serves. All belong to a cooperative exchange program that allows patrons to draw on the resources of the others.


Although the Oceanside Library is a bit larger, the Carlsbad Library is pretty hard to top. It has diverse collections, loyal patrons, a broad funding base and the legacy of aggressive leadership.

There are 54,243 registered cardholders out of the 62,000 residents in Carlsbad, according to Collin Clark, a data coordinator for the California State Library, which administers state and federal funds for city libraries.

In 1989, the Carlsbad Library handled 103,480 reference questions and checked out 840,484 books, Clark said.

"That is unusually high, the highest of the North County cities," Clark said. In most cities, the library is used (meaning materials are checked out) about four times per year per resident. In Carlsbad the per-capita figure is more than 13 times a year.

"It's a matter of catering and predicting the needs of our community," said Charlene Kennedy, one of six reference librarians at the Carlsbad Library. "This library is very popular with the people who live here, and one of the reasons they move to this community is because of this library."

Library director Clifford Lange said Carlsbad's good reputation has been there from the beginning, due largely to founder Georgina Cole. It was Cole was helped the library secede from the county system in 1956, led the construction of the existing building in 1967 and spent her life bringing quality library service to the growing community.

Besides developing a large children's collection and implementing a summer reading program, Cole strove to make the library a small version of that of her alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where cultural events, art exhibits, children's art lessons and a museum are everyday activities.

In addition to more than 200,000 books in its general collection, Carlsbad has a separate 25,000-volume genealogy section, the largest in Southern California. A bilingual staff, a respectable section of large-print books and an active children's program are other staples.

The library's strengths run toward business; an inventory of more than 1,400 annual reports from California corporations are part of a special collection. Prospective job candidates can investigate a company before going to an interview, Kennedy said.

"We have tried to specialize in business because we do have a growing industrial community, especially out in the business parks," Kennedy said. "And because we have a large retail community here--hotel, motel and restaurant--we have tried to develop collections to support them, too."

Special services include shut-in delivery, an adult literacy program and a computerized data base that allows, for a fee, searches of more than 300 newspapers and periodicals nationwide. On a more homey level, the library has a collection of menus from local restaurants, a Christmas file filled with holiday tips and mail-order catalogues that Kennedy brings from home.

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