Sitting in a crowded corner of the tiny Ojai Library, fourth-grader Louie Hernandez is working on a homework problem dealing with area, size and ratio.
So are the librarians.
When afternoon arrives, they are confronted by a tangle of students vying for space among narrow book shelves and cluttered tables. There's a waiting list for computers and a line of patrons waiting to check out books.
Every inch of space is taken up in the 5,100-square-foot public library, the busiest per capita in the Ventura County system.
The question facing library supporters is how to meet the demands of a book-hungry community in such cramped space.
"We've reached critical mass right now," said librarian Kit Willis. "When we have a new book, we literally have to take an old one away."
For years, library supporters have wanted to expand the facility but lacked money. Now, they are eyeing $350 million in state bond funds approved by California voters last year to renovate, expand and build libraries statewide.
Under Proposition 14, the state would pay 65% of library construction costs, and local governments would pay the remaining 35%.
The application process, set to begin in June 2002, is expected to be highly competitive as cities statewide grapple for limited funds to shore up library services decimated by years of budget cutbacks.
In Ojai, library supporters are undeterred.
They believe the existing facility is so inadequate--and community library use so high--that they stand a good shot at securing state funds to expand the library or move its collection to a new site.
"The utilization of the library far exceeds its space," City Manager Dan Singer said. "It's really quite phenomenal."
One proposal being considered by a committee of library, school and city leaders would move the library collection to one of two sites on the Ojai Unified School District's main campus in the center of town.
The state grant regulations strongly encourage libraries to form partnerships with local schools, Singer said.
"We think obviously we would fare pretty well in that regard," he said.
And then there is the community support.
Five years ago, the city's voters overwhelmingly approved a $35 parcel tax to keep the library open seven days a week. Since then, its usage has flourished.
The library, located on less than half an acre in the center of town, now serves about 11,000 patrons a month, operates 35 programs and circulates more than 101,000 volumes annually, according to a recent study.
Although the city's population hovers at around 8,000, the library has 16,000 card holders.
"And it is still growing," said Willis, looking out at the sea of children gathered last week at the homework center. "It's really crazy."
Last year, a study found that the library needs an additional 11,000 square feet to handle that volume of people and demands for books, computers and reading space.
A two-story addition to the current building was ruled out for cost and operational reasons.
Since then, the committee has identified several properties around town that could be renovated, including the school district sites. Construction costs are estimated to run between $2 million and $5 million.
It would probably take three to four years before any library renovation or construction would begin, Singer said, and that is only if the city receives bond money.
"I would call it an unparalleled opportunity," said Nita Whaley, a member of the Ojai Valley Library Friends and Foundation. "What we are trying to do is have a facility that can respond to the needs of the community for at least 10 years, and hopefully with room to grow."
Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously voted to hold a forum at City Hall on June 4 to receive input from the community on the expansion proposal.
In addition to the complexities of grant applications and approval processes, one of the biggest stumbling blocks may be persuading local residents to say goodbye to their tiny library.
Last week, Ojai resident Beverly Rose, 64, said she had mixed feelings about the proposal.
"There's something very cozy about [the library]," she said. Built in 1928, it has large exposed wood beams and a wood-burning fireplace.
"There is an emotional attachment," said librarian Willis, who came to the library as a child growing up in Ojai. "But I do think we can make our wishes known to the architect."