Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover
Tales from the La Verne Library.
When I first started working at the La Verne Library as an aide, I thought it was just a quiet little place where older people and families came to sit and read. For the most part it is a calm, relaxing atmosphere where patrons catch up on the latest bestseller.
But in the day-to-day experience of working with people and members of the La Verne community, I have come to see that the library stereotype of a silent, boring building filled with quaint older librarians and dedicated, intense students does not hold up today. At the La Verne Library, many of my coworkers are younger and the people who visit the library have a variety of backgrounds and personalities.
Our city’s library was founded in 1897. It was known then as the Lordsburg Library, and was a “traveling library” organized by local residents who brought books from Los Angeles to the La Verne area four times a year. The library collection continued to grow, and in October 1914, it officially joined the Los Angeles County Library system. Since then it has had quite a few different homes (including what is now the Lutheran High Thrift Shop at 2125 Bonita Ave.), before finally settling at its present location, 3640 "D" St., on July 29, 1985.
Greg Nichols, a library assistant at the Charter Oak Library, worked with the La Verne Library before and after it moved in 1985. He says at that time the library was a quiet little building that did not have a large collection of materials, and has since improved immensely.
“It was a really small collection, practically tiny,” he says. “It’s really nice to see a larger collection of materials available to a community that will definitely use them.”
The current library manager, George May, came to the La Verne Library in August 2001. He says that the collection was at about 77,000 book titles when he started. To date the La Verne Library collection has 82,440 books for adults and children, and materials in other languages, approximately 71 magazine and newspaper subscriptions, 5,916 audio recordings and 5,635 videocassettes. He says another thing that has gone up is the number of people who visit the library.
“There were fewer patrons when I started, but we’ve added more programs here and they attract a lot of people,” he says. “It’s great that we’re able to provide these services.
“We’re here to serve the community, and it’s good to see that the library is a popular place for people to come,” May adds.
Because the library has become a frequent hangout for many different types of people, I have seen some startling visitors come in, turning an expected day of silently checking out books into a circus of surprises. The library of today is very different from the library of, say, 50 years ago.
One day last April, an older woman visited the library. She came up to the front counter with a question, wearing everything except pants.
“I did a double-take when I first saw her,” said my co-worker, Kurt Schnabel. “I thought ‘Her pants are an interesting color. Oh wait—those are not pants!’ She seemed like she was all there. She just had no pants on.”
Another time, an older gentleman came into the library. This man always seems to be wearing the same outfit: a sleeveless T-shirt, high shorts outfitted with a large belt, and white sneakers with knee-high ribbed socks. Rounding out the outfit is a white Dickies brand backpack he wears all the time, spotless and clean as the day it left the warehouse. But what throws me and other people for a loop are the disposable, clear plastic gloves he always wears.
Although his appearance may be a bit disconcerting, this man is actually quite the sweetheart. He brings small milk and juice cartons, as well as the occasional Styrofoam box of Chinese food, into the library as snacks for my coworkers and me. Although I never eat or drink the food, I thank him kindly, as does everyone else. He also has a habit of bringing in roses he must have picked up on his travels and scatters them, leafless and sweet, on the front desk for my female coworkers and me. He also types out poetry on an available library computer and hands it with much ado to anyone behind the desk willing to take it. This backfired on him once though, when one of my male coworkers received a poem entitled “To A Pretty Filipino Girl.”
My coworker, Kady Bell, finds him to be just as amusing. A 22-year-old aide from San Dimas, Bell has not been at the library long and shares my curiosity about the oddball regular visitors.
“It’s funny that he always looks behind the counter to see if I’m wearing boots,” she says. “He calls it a boot check.”
Another library regular always wears the same outfit every time, too: a white tank top, black baggy gym shorts and high white socks with sandals. Sometimes he adds a fedora, his thin white hair poking out for added flair. What sets this man apart, though, are the many tattoos he has up and down his arms. He also has one in the shape of a tear on his left cheek. Although indifferent most of the time, his funny personality sometimes shows through in the random things he says and does. He has described in full detail the day he won the Heisman Trophy, the time (on a separate occasion) when he played in the NFL Super Bowl, and the highs and lows of being in the organized Mafia.
There was also the time he walked into the library and asked my coworkers at the front desk if any items of his were being held in the back, where inter-library loans are kept. After a quick check, a negative was reported and he wandered over to the DVD and VHS section to take a look at the latest free seven-day rentals. He was looking for so long that everyone forgot he was there until he ran past the front counter and out the doors with DVD, VHS and a few CD cases bulging from underneath his thin, white tank top. We alerted our supervisor, excited for a chase scene, but the older man somehow managed to escape.
What really baffles my coworkers and me is that the gentleman is a regular at the library and knows the CDs and DVDs are stored in a file cabinet behind the front counter. I am sorry to say his treasure was just a few old videocassettes.
But my personal favorite is the older woman who always comes in with a smile, and whose only quirk is bringing bread from home to give my coworkers and me. Friendly and considerate, she hugs everyone, inquires about how our lives are and then unloads bags of hot dog and hamburger buns into our arms. The buns are put in the break room and slowly but surely, are taken home by everyone to be eaten.
The La Verne Library is really a home away from home for some very different people. I have realized that despite its main purpose, people do not come in just to borrow books. Some are lonely, some are friendly, and some just want to get out of the house, but all of them enjoy feeling involved and a part of what is going on at the library.
I see it in the way people act toward my coworkers and me. We check out books for our patrons, but we laugh and sympathize with them as well. It definitely makes work more fun when someone takes a genuine interest in us and gets to know who we are as people, too.
Since I started working there, I’ve come to love interacting with the different kinds of people, sharing their ideas and jokes, all while waiting for the next curious person to walk in.
Sidebar: Beyond Books