When taking a long road trip, do you ever find yourself wondering about all the towns you pass? Who lives there? What goes on? How is life different here from where I live? How is it the same? I ask myself these questions when I drive, yet I rarely slow down long enough to find out the answers.
But last weekend when driving past King City, CA en route to a wedding, motivated – in part – by my desperate need for a bathroom break, I decided to stop. Rather than pulling into the nearest gas station or fast-food restaurant, I took a couple of extra minutes and drove into town to the library.
As soon as I approached the library doors, the signs began to inform me both about the library and about the community it served. The library signage was written in both English and Spanish (I later looked up the demographics of King City and on the 2010 census more than 87% of residents identified as Hispanic or Latino.) Once inside the library I noticed large collections of both Spanish and English language materials as well as public access computers, desks, and the kind of homey couches one finds in small-town libraries that look like they might have come directly from someone’s living room.
While the traditional library amenities seemed to be meeting the city’s needs (people were at the computers and browsing the collection) it was the details made the library both quirky and personal.
The entrance was adorned with an amazing, book-themed quilt. My bathroom key was secured to a large plastic dinosaur (other dino toys were scattered throughout the library). And the small periodicals section also served as a display area for local natural history and library history artifacts.
In the short time that I visited, the library staff also seemed to be doing as much as possible to make their patrons feel at home. Every time a family entered the library – their arrival signaled by a doorbell chime that, I swear, would have driven me insane – the library staff would greet the children almost by name and inquire about their lives, listening attentively. Witnessing these interactions I couldn’t help but think, ‘community library’ and find myself slightly in awe of these women (everyone working at the library when I visited was female) who seemed so engaged with patrons at least 30 years their juniors.
In the end, I hope I learned a little about King City from visiting the library, and I certainly found a clean restroom. But more than that, my visit emphasized how slowing down on a road trip can lead to discovering some great libraries in overlooked places.
For more information about the King City branch of the Monterey County Free Library system, visit their website at http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/library/