Adjectives and Verbs

whisper whisper

THERE IS SO MUCH TO SAY! Where do I start?

Maybe with: When I ran into Patrick Remer at the Light Up the Night tree lighting, the first thing he said to me was something along the lines of: you guys are going to get the coolest, most amazing library, and this was only after the first two days of intensive meetings with the architectural team.

Maybe with: When I see all of these notices in my inbox and in my feed from Public Information Officer Martin Nelis about the building of the new Pleasant Hill Library I feel so delighted by the momentum and outreach. A student design contest?! A town hall meeting?! A focus group with seniors?! And to hear of even more outreach announced by Patrick at storytime, even outreach AT storytime? It makes me giddy.

Maybe with: As seems to be the trend with me and all things Pleasant Hill related, I experienced another first–I attended my first town hall meeting on November 27, along with 140 fellow Pleasant Hillians. This meeting was the start of several community engagement events that the architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), along with design firm Margaret Sullivan Studio, are conducting to learn about our community’s unique needs that will shape the space where–as Patrick puts it–“the community comes to see itself”: our new library!

Other library-design community events have included meetings with seniors, tweens and teens, and storytime patrons, along with surveys handed out at the Light up the Night tree lighting. The BCJ team is also planning more town hall events this month and in January, as well as additional focus groups. And if you cannot make it to a live event, you can leave your comments and suggestions at

Mayor Harris, who opened the evening, described the team at BCJ as “engaging, creative and collaborative”, saying that their approach “reflects our community.” According to David Andreini, Associate Principal at BCJ, the building of our new library is a “wonderful opportunity to do something special.” He used adjectives like “intrigued” and “excited”. Andreini said the team will “back away from design for the next few months” and “just listen”. Listen to why we love Pleasant Hill. Listen to what we value. Listen to what we envision, for our community and for our future library.

I admit it, I welled up. A bunch. It’s kind of my thing to cry at civic events.

Andreini shared the Contra Costa Library vision from the County Library’s latest strategic plan and emphasized its verbs as guiding principles: ”Contra Costa Library is the pulse of our community. Working together we spark imagination, fuel potential, and connect people with ideas and each other.” A good starting place, Andreini noted. Then he turned the evening over to Margaret Sullivan of Margaret Sullivan Studio, by asking, “What is Pleasant Hill about?”

Margaret Sullivan will most definitely find out. Her presentation was the first time (another first!) that I witnessed a marriage between my brief stint in the Bay Area tech scene as a writer and studio manager for a design company specializing in natural user interface, and my soon-to-be vocation, librarianship. I fully understood both languages spoken in the Pleasant Hill Community Center that night: user-centered design and community library love.

Sullivan, considered a leader in innovative library design, pointed out that the biggest change to libraries in the 21st century is the dramatic increase in public programming. She said librarians, like Patrick, with innovative ideas and programs that bring the community together to foster the connectedness we value often “fight with their buildings”. If you’ve ever attended the 11:15 AM Friday storytime with Patrick, you’ve seen what Sullivan means. Sullivan described Pleasant Hill Library’s programming and community as “playful and joyful” but pointed out that those adjectives do not accurately describe our aging and worn facility.

Because libraries serve both individual and community needs, Sullivan described out some friction that can be encountered in such a project: excited citizens vs. uncomfortable citizens; accommodating books vs. making space for making; carving out solitude vs. leaving room for gatherings. Sullivan provided the examples of libraries that have redefined themselves for their communities. My favorites: A Philadelphia library’s The Culinary Teaching Kitchen and a Las Vegas library’s DJ Training Program. All of her examples, she assured us, represented a unique response the library had to its own community. Then Sullivan shared her library design metaphors, different ways of thinking about and/or using the library’s space, such as “Library as vibrant cafe” or “Library as classroom”. Real-life inspiration and metaphors help designers, decision makers and stakeholders think outside the traditional confines spaces occupy physically, mentally and emotionally. Sullivan shared them because they get people thinking creatively together, outside of the library box.

Sullivan emphasized that her work is to discover the “unique aspects that are Pleasant Hill”, our “needs, curiosities, and aspirations”, and to help design a library space that can “create the customized experiences” that our community–and each individual–seek when they walk through the library’s doors.

“How does the space support the activities to create the customized experiences?” Sullivan asked. She pointed out that the paradigm of library service has shifted from the 20th century’s “come in and read and be quiet” to the 21st century’s “come in and learn and be heard.” Today’s library empowers its patrons in all sorts of new ways, which requires new ways of thinking for present and future library users. Then Sullivan posed two crucial questions: “What kind of community do you want to create?” and “What kind of library do you want to create?” The asking and answering of both questions is a “luxury, and a responsibility”, she pointed out.

Those questions and their answers are both grave and dizzying. And I love that it is, really, up to us.

And so the answering began.

When Sullivan turned the microphone over to the Pleasant Hill citizens so that we could tell her what we love about Pleasant Hill, the excitement was palpable. The crowd–from seniors to teens–was a robust cross section of our community and included some of our leaders, members of various organizations, citizens and families. We all had great things to say about the town we call home. One citizen summed it up best when she said, “it lives up to its name!”

When Sullivan asked us to imagine the new library, the crowd (with some prompting) took off with her “Library as garden” metaphor. Clearly we value the outdoors here and participants dreamed up ideas from outside campfires to an attached playground “like none we’ve ever seen” to outdoor classrooms to educational trailhead maps along the creek and canal to a seed library.

Pleasant and hilly, and green in the winter.

Sullivan called out other community values as we went along, sometimes diverging from the “Library as garden” idea. Whatever the topic, people spoke up and Sullivan, and the BCJ team listened. I was enjoying the discourse so much, I didn’t take many notes. Except for this nugget: When Sullivan hears the adjectives “flexible and adaptable” in reference to buildings, she rephrases the sentiment like this–“a building that ebbs and flows in how it’s being used throughout the day and throughout the year.”

Swoon. That’s me now swooning at a civic event.

But wait! There’s more!

There was that one adjective that Margaret Sullivan used that sent shivers up my spine. She prefaced it with “fabulous and” and it resonated deeply within me and my feelings toward the new library and its potential impact on our community: specific. As in, a library experience that is specifically transformative to each individual member of our community, and at the same time, to the community at large. Specific: to Pleasant Hillians, our needs, our interests, our desires, our dreams, our potential, our identity.

But here’s the thing: the only way BCJ can get specific is if we give them specifics.

While I believe Project Manager Michael Kross when he said, “we are all confident we can do something extraordinary” here, there really will be no magic built–no specificity, no uniquely ours–without our input.

So, Pleasant Hillians, we all have until February to be heard.

Originally published on December 7, 2017 at


Pleasant Hill, we have an architect!!

The announcement arrived in my inbox days ago that the City of Pleasant Hill has selected architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ)–whose team includes design firm Margaret Sullivan Studio (MSS), the “national leader in the visioning, programming, and interior design of public libraries of the future”, according to the City’s Public Information Officer Martin Nelis–to build the new Pleasant Hill Library.

I’ll admit, there may have been some light to moderate mist in my eyes upon reading the news.

It’s really happening! It’s really really happening!! This is so exciting for our city and for all of us library lovers and library users, and even for all those elusive non-users and non-user library lovers out there. It cannot be overstated how valuable the library is to our community and how deeply it impacts our quality of life. And in a few years, we get to enjoy our most public of institutions in a brand new building that our community will help design. Pleasant Hill, there are so many exciting things in store for us.

But wait! There are already a ton of exciting things happening at our good ole library as fall programming amps up. September happens to be #LibraryCardSignUp month. Quick! There’s still time to get yours (actually, there’s no need to rush–a library card is always available and always free).


While you’re getting your always-free always-available library card be sure to check out some of the program offerings (which are free whether you have a library card or not), such as:

Maker Monday
Tinker Tuesday
Pajama Yoga Storytime
Pleasant Hill Citywide Reads
Lego Creator Club
Mike the Magician
Afternoon Yoga for Kids
Anime @ the Library
Latin Jazz Concert
Immigration Laws Class
Build a Book on Tinker Tuesday
Storytime, 4 times a week
Monthly Book Discussion Groups
Medicare Workshop
Eco Studio for up-cycled sewing
ESL Conversation Practice
Adults Learn to Read and Spell
1-on-1 Computer Tutoring
Teen Tutoring
Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library Book Sales

I mean, seriously. Look at that list! And that’s just the next month and a half.

Here are some of the things my 4-year-old son has learned at the library recently: how to build robotic Lego creations powered by remote control at Lego Creator Club, one of which appeared in the showcase in the library’s foyer; how to make LED, fabric die-cut, and regular old fashioned button pins (we have quite a collection going) and how to make and launch duct tape rockets at the Tinkers and Thinkers Innovation Faire; how to make (and then race) a car out of a shoe box, cds, tape and various odds and ends at the Junkyard Derby on Tinker Tuesday; and of course, he’s practicing his reading. Yup, at 4 my son can read due in large part to how much time we spend at the library and how many books we check out and read at home: our current record is 51 at one time. My son gets SO excited about the library–about the books and about the activities. And “soon” he will get to get super excited about the new space.

Our takeaways

Video by C. McPherson, age 4 (that’s yours truly driving).

Pleasant Hill Public Information Officer Martin Nelis reported that “it is anticipated that the complete design phase of the library will take approximately 18-24 months to complete. Construction of the new building is expected to begin late 2019 or early 2020 with anticipated completion in 2021.”

Remember, we citizens of Pleasant Hill and Contra Costa County, have a chance to weigh in on what we want to see at our new library through upcoming workshops and public meetings. The first one is slated for November.

Still on the fence about why we need a new library in the Digital Age? Well, while awaiting the City’s news, I happened to read a great article by Oleg Kagan on Medium about how library visits have been steadily increasing: “Between 1990 and 2014, visits to public libraries grew by a whopping 181%,” Kagan wrote. He highlighted all the fantastic reasons to visit your local library such as “responsive, unique, and high-quality program offerings; more open professional and institutional attitudes; and the embrace of a user-centered approach to technology.”

Then I read another great article titled “You can do WHAT at the library?” by St. Augustine, Florida mom Alexandra Phillips who points out you can (I love this) “celebrate your inner nerd” at libraries as well as find the “elusive mom friend” and “read to a dog.”

Need more reasons why we should be so excited about our library? Consider this conclusion by Kagan:

Libraries will continue to be the place where curiosity comes to grow and thrive, where every person will always be welcome, where the freedom to read and explore shall always be protected, and where the private intellectual and spiritual pursuits of the public will always be respected. That is why libraries and librarians will continue to serve their communities with dignity and honor.

Libraries are important, so so important. So important, in fact, that I recently applied to library school. I should be finished just in time for the completion of our new library. When I told my son my news he said, “Mommy I don’t want you to go to school to become a librarian because I like hanging out with you and I won’t be able to if you work in the library.” I pointed out to him that we already spend so much time at the library that this is a really a win-win job situation for us. He seemed okay with that.

One afternoon while I reading about the San Jose State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program, my husband sent me this GIF:



That my husband sends me perfectly perfect GIFs is one of the many many reasons I love him. I mean, this clip says it all, right? Well, almost. Darren Criss could be walking through a storytime or a room full of Legos or sewing machines or 3D printers or kids doing yoga. Because libraries are so much more than books these days. Holding a library card–or even simply visiting the library–is empowering. It is life changing. Guaranteed. Quietly. Or loudly. But definitely perfectly.

Originally published on 9/26/17 at

A Camel Staircase Library

A great deal of transition and movement in my life started this spring that still has me all soft and squishy: a whirlwind house purchase and move, seven straight months of daily meditation, my son finishing his first year at preschool and celebrating his 4th birthday, and a week-long visit from my mom and sisters–the first time we’ve all been together for seven straight days in 27 years. It makes sense, then, as I sit back and watch the highway of emotions whiz by that I catch glimpses of raw tenderness mingled with nostalgia, humility and awe. With those heavy emotions also comes joy and excitement about growth and new adventures. I got to hang out with my sisters without fighting over clothes and they did the dishes without being asked–it was amazing!

The spring ushered in some exciting momentum in our community, too. This news came out of City Hall on April 18 when Public Information Officer Martin Nelis reported: “The City and the County can now move forward on an agreement for the transfer of approximately three acres at 1700 Oak Park Boulevard (the vacant property across Monticello Avenue from the current library building) for the new library location.”

Image from

Patrick Remer, Senior Community Library Manager (and storytime rock star), predicted that pinning down a site was months away in an interview I wrote about earlier this year. He also touched on the next bit of good Pleasant Hill Library news reported by Nelis:

Concurrent with the City and County discussions, the City is moving forward with plans for the design and construction of the new library. The City recently issued a Request for Proposals [RFP] from architectural firms to begin the design of the building and landscaping improvements. It is anticipated that an architect will be hired this summer to begin work in early fall. The library design process will involve extensive community outreach and engagement through workshops and public hearings.

Back in November, Patrick said: “The biggest piece of the forthcoming master timeline for me is making sure that we choose an architect and other consultants or contractors who are going to be really responsive and interested in having a dialogue and an iterative design process.”

What exactly is iterative design, its process and the thinking behind it? Iterative design is a cyclical process that starts and ends with understanding users’ needs. Earlier this year, Adobe invited Patrick and friends to speak about the future of libraries for a hackathon design workshop. According to the Hackathon handouts where engineers practiced thinking like designers, the process goes like this:

From the February 2017 Adobe Hackathon. Reprinted with permission.

The emphasis on users is key, especially for a house of the people, a building that exists solely to serve and gather a community. How will the iterative process lend itself to the building of a library? There are obvious barriers to the prototyping and testing phase when the product is a building, but there are limitless design ideation possibilities when engaging in creative dialogues with community members, from non-library users to library lovers, from seniors to toddlers (my 4 year-old son would have loads to say about his perfect library, and it would include trucks, cats and purple).

As Patrick said, “We really want to give people an open forum to just say what’s on their mind, what are the things they really care about and to make a concerted effort to reach out to all users, as well as non-users and folks whose engagement with the library is limited.”

We discussed additional resources that Patrick hopes to tap, like the Brazelton Touchpoints Center; and the design minds from Stanford (Patrick recommended a book published by Stanford, called Make Space about Stanford’s, or design school); our own Bay Area tech, product and interface design talent; and even the work of Seymour Papert, a founder of the MIT Media Lab who, as Patrick stated it, believed “we construct our own knowledge best when we are constructing things in the physical world.”

Patrick continued:

We talk about the 21st century library but what does that really look like? Who is positioned to understand the direction of these tech trends over the next few decades? Not necessarily what we need to build tomorrow with this new facility, but how we should be building capacity to evolve technologically. I really wish someone in 1961 was like, “you know, let’s double the number of power outlets.” It’s really hard to predict how things are going to change. We need to ask. We need to ask the people who are best positioned to predict those things.

I was chatting with Councilman Matt Rinn at a Rec and Park event. He was telling me a fable about designing a horse. It was something like when the gods tried to invent a horse, they were like, “it should have that and it should have this.” They basically came up with a camel because they were trying to pack in too many things. It’s got all these features. It can store water and it’s got a longer neck. At a certain point you end up with something you didn’t expect. I’d be happy to have a camel library that’s just funky and unusual and unique.

Photograph by Soma Rani Kundu

One camel library coming up!

Pleasant Hill Mayor Michael Harris, the self-proclaimed most frequent library visitor who called 2017 “The Year of the Library”, attended the annual Friends meeting on Saturday May 13 to talk about the next steps toward the new library. After a library quiz (with prizes), Mayor Harris walked us through the tours the Library Task Force members took of 14 area libraries from Sacramento to Los Gatos. Mayor Harris shared images of what worked and didn’t work (yes to comfortable chairs on wheels with power outlets, no to a library cafe–sorry, folks). He also talked about next steps and funding.

Mayor Harris told us that the RFP for library architects was released the same day the Board of Supervisors voted on the land site. Since then the momentum toward our new library has been buzzing along. Proposals were due June 5 and the City Council hopes to award the contract to an architect by August.

Like Patrick, Mayor Harris said the designing of our new library will include extensive public engagement. He, like Patrick, wants to hear from everyone in our community in workshops and public hearings.

As Mayor Harris said, at this point “nothing is off the table.”

What can community members do now to participate in helping the design of the new library iterate?

Mayor Harris proposed an idea that I love and eagerly anticipate: a design contest for the K-12 set asking them to “imagine a new Pleasant Hill Library” with the K-5 crowd focusing on designing the children’s area and the 6-12 kids imaging the teen area. Mayor Harris also suggests that we “send emails now” with any and all ideas, or wait for the town-halls and workshops. He reiterated: “You are going to help us design this library. Libraries make communities stronger. We are building a building for people.”

There is a lot to consider. We are all unique users with a hodge-podge of individual and collective needs. And whatever the space might look like, the library has and always will meet that challenge to serve. So it is exactly our hodge-podge of needs that will ultimately iterate the design of our library. We need to raise our voices now, before the foundation is poured.

Back in November Patrick stated:

Basically our public is going to use this space in ways we never predicted and there’s going to be really wonderful things that come out of that. There’s also going to be challenges that come from that as well.

I think one of the really good rules of thumb that came out of that Make Space book is the escalator test, which I really really love. When an elevator breaks, as ours does frequently, it’s useless. It’s totally broken. Like when a computer breaks, it’s like a brick. When an escalator breaks, it becomes a staircase. We need to think about how things can be as simple as possible while building in flexibility because people will want to put their fingerprint on the space and their experience of it. We need to build in an open-mindedness.

Make that a flexible camel staircase library!

The prospect of building a new library will indeed make some members of our community feel nostalgic. But it is also an opportunity to be excited, to imagine and anticipate. If we don’t speak up now, we might just end up with a donkey elevator library. Or a hippopotamus skyscraper library.

What does that even mean?

Adobe engineers prototype a room of a 21st century library.

Some of the Adobe engineers practicing iterative design thinking at the Hackathon imagined–after talking to us, library users and librarians: accordion partitions between rooms, Whiteboard walls, Murphy-style fold-down tables, digital displays on the outside of the building featuring in progress programs, and even “cones of silence” (dome-shaped modules on racks in the ceiling that could come down and cover individuals or groups looking for good old fashioned quiet in the library). And they only thought about community library users’ needs for three hours or so. Imagine what we–our entire community–could come up with weeks of contests, workshops, focus groups and town-halls in which to ideate and iterate? Exciting, isn’t it?


Originally published on June 21, 2017


Thank you, Pleasant Hill Library

April 9 to April 15 is National Library Week. And so it is fitting that as I sit here taking in a magnificent view of Mt. Diablo from the bedroom of our new Pleasant Hill home–into which we moved just six days ago–I am overwhelmed by the urge to write our community library a thank you note.


I love writing thank you notes because they are a chance to express how truly grateful I am for the people, places and things in my life. I try to write each and every thank you note with my whole heart. Before reviving my daily gratitude practice, thank you notes were my main outlet for the deep, rich pool of thankfulness that washes over me at random points in my days. I’ve been told people look forward to receiving them as much as I look forward to writing them. Now I get to ghost-write my son’s thank you notes, a fun and silly rhetorical exercise–I get to try to capture the effervescent persona of a precocious toddler. Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving.

So, ahem… here goes:

Dear Pleasant Hill Library,

Thank you so much for allowing my family to experience the magic of Patrick’s and Elaine’s storytimes, which kept us coming back week after week until: “Listening to storytime is no fun. Getting books is fun!” Nowadays, the wall of tubes is “super fun” and storytime is coming back into vogue. Nowadays, getting new books at the library is a daily request.

Thank you for free access to books, books and more books. And then even MORE books. My son’s appetite for reading is voracious. And thank you for saving me about a gagillion dollars because now I don’t have to buy many books. Because of you, my little man consumes books the way teenage boys consume food.

Thank you for playing a part in my 3.9 year-old’s ability to read and understand the process of searching for new information. He really can read: picture books, greeting cards, signs, tables of contents, my texts, whatever we try to censor in chapter books (he reads those now, too). He sounds out and emphasizes phenoms, which helps with pronunciation and word recognition, and it also helps us understand what our boy is trying to say (“No Mommy, D-D-D…”). My dear son even insists on correcting our rhetorical interpretation of punctuation (be still my fluttering heart). One day recently, he looked up from a book, and said “These books really help me learn new words.” Swoon! Here he is at school, on Funny Friday (the next school day after Wacky Wednesday) reading books, from the “truck book” bin, which he located on his own and climbed on the horse to access because, well, he can read.

Just a boy on a horse reading about trucks.

Thank you for inspiring me to get involved with the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library. Through my volunteer work with them, I’ve worked with dynamic, talented and passionate-about-our-community-library citizens such as Susan Weaver, Ann Flynn, Katherine Bracken, Jason Correia and Crystal Schimpf. Our Friends are some of the hardest working volunteers a library has ever seen.

Thank you, too, for playing such a prominent part in the writing of these magical blog posts. What more can I say? It’s magic.

Thank you for introducing me to Friend Ann Flynn, who set me up on a blind playdate, when she was manning the Friends booth at the Farmer’s Market, with another mama and her daughter who moved here from Pennsylvania. What started as an email between strangers has turned into a beautiful friendship for my son and me. In fact, I recently received a thank you note from this friend, who thanked me for our friendship and playdates. Full circle, people. Full circle.

Thank you for deepening my love of the library and strengthening my resolve to go to library school someday. Maybe even someday soon.

Thank you for getting me involved in the passage of Measure K and the building of a new library, my first foray into civic engagement since junior high student council. I mean, I attended my first city council meeting ever because of you.

Thank you so much for anchoring my family in our community. We love this pleasant and hilly place so much that my husband and I–serial renters for the past 20 years–are now pleasant (with a view of the hills) homeowners.

Thank you, Pleasant Hill Library, and more specifically Patrick Remer, for giving me the opportunity to participate on a panel of library lovers at the recent Adobe Hackathon in San Jose. Panelists included Council Member and former Mayor Sue Noack, San Pablo Community Library Manager Gia Paolini, San Jose Public Library’s Innovations Manager Erin Berman, Librarian and Consultant Crystal Schimpf, and of course our own Community Library Manager (and storytime rock star), Patrick. Adobe served us coffee and asked us to espouse the value of libraries, the challenges they face. I not only got to listen to these library leaders, but I also got to add my own two cents–as a peer! It was an especially awesome experience for me as the stay-at-home parent. My identity beyond “mommy” has been unmoored partly by parenthood and partly by geography. I still feel new here on the West Coast and my abilities beyond motherhood are sleepy. That is until one morning in February, when I dusted off my work pants, packed a lunch, and filled a thermos of Peet’s. It was Mommy who was headed out to “work” for the day. One of the panelists may have even told me he’d love to hire me if I had my library degree. I am still buoyed by his confidence in my other-than-caregiver abilities.

That’s me, on the left!

The organizer, Annamarie Bonura, who had seen Patrick’s TED talk, “Libraries: Paracosmic Portals” and invited him to speak, informed us in an email afterward: “The hackathon qualified as volunteer hours for the Adobe employees who participated. We had 23 people who participated for 3+ hours, earning a $2,000 grant for the Friends of Pleasant Hill Library. HOORAY!!!” So we got to talk about how much we love libraries, and it earned us a donation to the Friends?! Win and win!

I don’t remember who first told me about your storytime starring Patrick (back when he used to perform on Wednesdays), Pleasant Hill Library, but I am so SO grateful they did. Look at what it started.

Much love,

PS: One last thing, Pleasant Hill Library. It’s about Patrick. Can you please make sure to thank him again for coming to do a special storytime for March in Music at Creative Play Center on a rainy Friday in March? Getting a birthday serenade from him was the start of my most celebratory birthday yet. You all are–really–the best!

Originally published April 12, 2017


Moved To Tears

I made Patrick Remer cry.

Actually, he made himself cry. I just happened to be sitting there listening.

It happened during our conversation, just after the election, that meandered from back-seat storytelling to Measure K to iterative design, and came to land on the reality of a “post-election library”. I had just read an article on this idea published by the American Library Association Public Programs Office. The premise of the article was this: “Libraries across the country are coming up with ways, large and small, to make all people feel safe and welcome, regardless of who they are or which candidates they supported.”

Patrick and I had been talking specifically to the point about how libraries need to remain neutral, and thus remain a place for neutral discourse in such a divisive political and social climate. I asked how does a library, as a reflection of its community, not take sides.

“You use the language not take sides, which is a concern for somebody in my position,” Patrick started. “The thing is that we are on the side of the Constitution. We’re on the side of basic fundamental human rights and we’re on the side of open-access for all. The right to read. That’s our side. Whoever is with us, that’s great. In a way it’s about doubling down on our existing charge to ensure that regardless of who you are, where you come from, what your needs are, that the library has something for you to support your learning, your growth, your information needs.”

Patrick has made this point before: the library is a house of the people, all people–it doesn’t exclude or discriminate. “I think we need to find the strength and confidence in our existing mission and not be reactionary because the world is changing so quickly around us. Our mission hasn’t changed overnight,” Patrick said. “It’s not like now we’re doing something different. It’s just that the stakes and the repercussions are more evident.”

I think this bears repeating. Out of all of our public institutions, the library is first and foremost ours, personally and communally. It is a place of access and connectivity that helps us find whatever it is we need. The library is, as Patrick put it, “very often one of the first stops or places that you go to find a home in your community.” He continued:

It’s clearer [now] the ways in which a library can change lives. In a way I think that relieves a little bit of the weight of that question of neutrality. I’m not acting any different. I’m not using any different language and I’m still passionate about the same things, but I do have to be more careful that I am succeeding and making impact in those areas that I stand for. It might indicate new activities, new directions even, but I’m not scrapping my community service plan. It’s still in place. I think, for me, on a really practical nuts-and-bolts level, I’m thinking about how are we integrating some of the pieces that are already there to make sure that we really are taking care of our most vulnerable community members.

Having limited literacy and language skills is a huge vulnerability. Having various sort of levels of citizenship is a huge vulnerability. Things like food scarcity, poverty and other kinds of social barriers and impediments–those are things that we’ve been striving to overcome all this time. How can we stitch it all together in a way that it’s really going to provide more coherent and contiguous support to those folks that we’ve already dedicated ourselves to serving?

That’s the challenge regardless of the current political or social climate. Communities and their needs shift. A library’s job, always, is to respond to that shift. The American Library Association so succinctly pinpointed it with their Libraries Transform initiative. Libraries indeed transform. On. So. Many. Levels. They have also always been transparent and forthcoming with their mission. For the Pleasant Hill community, it is as simple as going to the Contra Costa Library website and clicking on the Strategic Plan for 2014-2017.

Said Patrick:

I think of libraries as being agents of change. We pioneer change and we spur change and progress, hopefully. It’s not like we’re static. It’s that we’re still dedicated to the mission of change, changing lives for the better. Helping people change themselves.

You’ve got to ask, within the framework, within the strategic plan, within our given resources, which are not inconsiderable–we have substantial community resources, mostly human capital in a library–how can we address that challenge? I think to a large extent it’s going to be trying to integrate the resources that are there and protecting the resources that are there to make sure those sort of rights and services are not infringed upon.

Our conversation that day, which began with Patrick explaining his role on the board of the Foundation for Pleasant Hill Education and his “diabolical plan of empowering kids to take control”, swung full circle back to our community’s youngest members.

It seems to always comes back to the kids. Especially for Patrick. Especially for me. They are our future. They are for whom we build our legacies.

We were talking about how to ensure that kids have access to library services. Patrick wants to continue to “clear away some of the hurdles to access for youth.”

“There are organizational difficulties that we need to overcome in order to make sure kids are being served. Of course,” he continued, “the kids who are here the most and are here the longest after school, these are the kids who actually have some of the fewest supports. We have a huge opportunity to serve those kids.”

Patrick stated, “Now with the national conversation, I think that phrase at-risk youth is actually problematic. Basically [we’re talking about] families that have high challenges and few supports. Many of these students may be natural-born citizens but obviously many members of their family are probably undocumented. They are at-risk because their families are at risk. The amount of stress, you know…” And here’s where his tears started. “…the fear and uncertainty that brings is pretty hard to imagine.”

Soak that in for a long moment: The leader of our community library fought back tears of empathy–during an interview on a Wednesday morning at the end of November–for the kids in our community enduring hardship beyond their years. I was there. I saw it.

My son recently asked me if I ever cried. I told him I cry all the time. He couldn’t believe it. I explained to him that sometimes I cry because I am sad or hurt, and sometimes I cry because I am happy, and sometimes I cry when I feel big emotions or when I get swept up in the energy of big connectedness–crowd cries, I call them.

I have been crying a lot of crowd cries lately, especially upon seeing all the images of women gathered for the Women’s March on Saturday, January 21. So many women I know and love went out to march all over the country, and so many of them took their spouses, daughters and sons (I was too sick to attend). My neighbor posted this picture on social media of her daughter, Ava, with the caption, “She is my everything! I march for her!” and boy o’ boy did it make me cry all kinds of tears. (So did her response later, when she said “I also marched for so many more in my life and all the lives I don’t even know.”)

If you think about it, each and every one of us was a kid once and most of us made it to adulthood because some person–or some institution–did its best to serve and protect us, regardless of the political or social climate. Whatever was happening around us went right on happening and someone–a relative, teacher, friend, practitioner, or a librarian–made it their mission to lead us around the hurdles. They helped us access what we needed to become who we are.

The library is high on my list of the safe, neutral, welcoming places of wide-open possibility that helped me become whomever I dreamed of becoming. The information and experiences I accessed in the library saved and transformed me. They still do. And they will do the same for my son, I am sure of it. Especially if leaders like Patrick Remer–who feels so strongly about his work that it moves him to tears–have anything to do with it.

Originally published Jan 26, 2017



Bookmark Moments

About a year and a half ago, after taking an Abundant Mama Project online course, I resumed the practice of keeping a daily gratitude journal. Instead of finding five things to be grateful for each day (the going rate), I find 10 to 15. At the beginning of each new journal, I write a quote by Abundant Mama’s founder Shawn Fink: “Go forward in gratitude, feel the abundance.” I try to emphasize the latter. For me this daily reflection is an exercise in perspective as much as it is a writing exercise in capturing succinct, specific moments in my life. As a result, over the past year and a half, I’ve recorded detailed snapshots that call out the humbling joy that scaffolds my day-to-day.

On Dec 6, I wrote, as item number four:

C, nestled under his covers, looking closely at the pages of Stuart Little that his daddy just read. “Let’s put a bookmark in here,” he says to me quietly, urgently. I get up and find a bookmark–a coupon from his NeilMed nasal irrigation kit. I slip it in, snug. “Where did you find this?” he asks as he examines it marking his page, running his exquisitely human fingers from the bookmark and along the page tops, prying the book open to the marked spot again and again. “Anything can be used as a bookmark,” I say.

Opening Stuart Little, his Daddy’s book from when he was little.

This kind of moment is one of the things I appreciate most about being a parent: an item as mundane as a bookmark becomes wondrous, magical. It’s these moments that make my heart swell.

This shift in perspective is also what I appreciate most about the winter holiday season. It is a time of festive joy, generous kindness, family and community gatherings and celebrations. We slow down. We reflect. We rejoice. We find gratitude and abundance. It is wondrous and magical–a soft, sweet time of year.

Our community, and especially our library, has something to be grateful for this holiday season: the passing of Measure K! According to the City’s recently published final election results, almost 11,000 Pleasant Hill residents (67%) voted in favor of Measure K. “Measure K needed a simple majority to pass and thus the measure was successful. The half cent sales tax increase will take effect in Pleasant Hill on April 1, 2017,” Martin Nelis reported. Let us all rejoice in soon-to-come abundant local funds for local needs!

Who better to reflect with on the exciting opportunities this brings our community than Pleasant Hill Library’s Community Library Manager, Patrick Remer (who, incidentally, said in his County Library bio that he is “especially lucky to learn from our youngest visitors, for whom this universe appears so magical and mysterious.”)? We sat down on the morning of Pleasant Hill’s ninth “Light Up the Night evening of merriment” downtown (which enjoyed a robust turnout this year) to discuss what’s next now that Measure K has passed.

“Everybody was sort of holding their breath over the election,” Patrick started. “The Library Task Force is reconvening and there’s a lot of momentum” now toward the building of a new Pleasant Hill library.

One of the first steps for new County Library Director Melinda Cervantes, Patrick stated, is to “present a list of architects that have worked in libraries before or who have a specialty in libraries.” He continued:

I am really excited to see that list and maybe make some redactions because I think having experience building libraries doesn’t necessarily make you great at it. There’s folks who learn important lessons and are good at what they do but there are plenty of examples out in libraryland of folks who just got it wrong. Even here in Contra Costa County, we have some new libraries that are absolutely gems but there were some obvious decisions that were made without strong community input. The results are really hard to reverse or improve now.

Patrick, the consummate collaborator and community leader, intends to make sure the Pleasant Hill community comes to the table with the architect.

Another “next step” is identifying the land on which the new library will be built. As Patrick said, “finalizing the site is huge. I’m really hoping that something is going to shake out in the next couple of months. The tone of the conversation suggests we can figure this out soon.”

After the architect and building site are selected, the City will be in charge of setting up a master timeline. Patrick stated, “That master timeline, the biggest piece of it for me is making sure that we choose an architect and other consultants or contractors who are going to be really responsive and interested in having a dialogue and an iterative design process.”

Patrick is adamant about this. Our community’s voices need to be heard as part of the planning process. “We need to have opportunities to learn more about ourselves as a community before we get to really high-stakes decisions,” Patrick said. “In the case of a building, it’s a pretty permanent decision, it’s like a 50 year-long minimum decision. I want to have those voices heard now.”

He basically wants to bring our community together for what I am calling a gigantic collaborative brainstorm–in the form of town halls, workshops and focus groups–to ensure that the library is what we want and what we need. As you may know, Patrick emphasizes and prioritizes community collaboration at every step of the library’s service. So in building the new library his approach will be no different.

“My real goal is thinking about that first day when we have opening day and people come into the library for the first time, what kind of reaction are they going to have?” Patrick said. “On the one hand you want a sense of surprise and wonder and delight like, oh my gosh! This is so much better than I could have possibly imagined! At the same time, you sort of want a little bit of a uh-huh, this is what I asked for. This is what, when I showed up to those community events and I got all my friends involved to really dream this thing up, this is basically what we put down.”

The short version? The next steps toward a new library can be boiled down to this: architect, land, timeline and that gigantic forthcoming brainstorm (more on that in another post). What can Pleasant Hill residents do in the interim while the Library Task Force, City and County work out their parts?

Patrick said he wants our community to “show up.” He continued:

I would really like to see the passion now before this new library is built because there is less that I can do to respond to passion, and input, and constructive criticism after the thing is built. I also want people to be engaged not just with the details of Okay, we’re constructing a thing. It’s an architectural problem. I really want it to be a philosophical problem in the sort of form following function, and that we should be brainstorming firstly about the function. By function I really do mean the purpose with a capital P of what we do when we use our library.

Our community needs to take stock in the little things so we can start dreaming about the big things. Or as Patrick described it, we need to “drill down to the details.” This is the perfect time of year to do so. Simply surrender to all the season’s wondrousness. Really look at what and who you appreciate, on every level. And not just about the library. Examine and distill the details of the places you find yourself. Go out into our community and notice what you appreciate the most. What moves you? What soothes you? What makes you feel welcome, engaged, valued? What makes you excited? What makes you feel full? Where are you most comfortable? Where are you the most productive? How do you learn and discover best? Break out all those w questions (and yes, how is one of the w questions). Check out the intersections of form and function around you. Contemplate purpose (with a capital P) in the spaces you and your family, friends, and neighbors occupy. Notice all the little things you appreciate about all those places where you touch your comforts, happiness, connectedness, community. Observe with soft curiosity. Find your bookmark moments.

Then jot them all down somewhere so you can bring them to our gigantic community brainstorm.

Originally published Dec 15, 2016


First Things

Autumn has always been, for me, a time to hunker down, settle in, and take stock. Even here in my pleasant and hilly still-newish home, without the biting cold sweeping in on early twilights, I find myself readying for winter’s yin–for the heaviness that comes with deep, quiet reflection. That’s why fall can feel like an emotional rollercoaster with big swells and steep dips. This year I’ve noticed something new to add in my autumnal emotional palate: that queasy excitement and anxiety that comes with groundbreaking firsts.

  • My first time at a City Council meeting, along with my first time planting a ballot measure sign on my lawn (and the first time I’ve had to repeatedly reposition said sign because lawn signs are apparently irresistible to children). Yes on K!
  • My, and my son’s, first experience with preschool, along with my first experience as a teacher’s assistant, and, also, our first cold season where my son can blow his nose (I never knew how much I would appreciate nose-blowing skills).
  • My first time incurring overdue fines at the Pleasant Hill Library (just doing my part to generate library revenue), along with my first time collaborating with the Pleasant Hill community via Facebook and Twitter to curate and craft a nomination for the “I Love My Librarian” award.
Autumn in Yosemite. Photo credit: Loïc Lagarde via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Beyond me, enormous firsts have occurred that make me well up with tears: it is the first time a female candidate has been nominated by a major political party for the presidency, and she–let’s linger a moment on the pronoun–she may actually have a shot at taking the Office. It is the first time when young girls, like my tweenage and teenage nieces, can legitimately say, and mean, “I want to be President of the United States.” I am awestruck at the gravity of this momentous first. I am so glad to witness it in my lifetime.

Photo credit: Jef Parker (Own work), [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

On September 14, the first woman, and African-American, Dr. Carla Hayden, was sworn into lead the Library of Congress. Her gender and race are both remarkable to the appointment, and yet there is more: Hayden is also one of the few heads in the Library’s history who is actually a trained librarian–she started as the Children’s Librarian in the Chicago Public Library. In an interview with the New Yorker’s Daniel Gross, Hayden said that experience “trained her as a manager. ‘If you can negotiate story time with three- and four-year-olds,” she said, ‘that’s a skill you can take all the way up.’”

Chief Justice John Roberts swears in Carla Hayden with her mother, Colleen, holding the Lincoln bible and Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan / Photograph by Shawn Miller for The Library of Congress

In an interview for NPR, Michel Martin asked Hayden what it means to be a first. Hayden talked about the field’s legacy of male leadership and how she saw an opportunity. She continued:

To be the first female Librarian of Congress speaks to what Melvil Dewey said when he started the Library Association in 1876 and decided that women might be good for the profession because – and I love this quote – they had a high tolerance for pain and monotonous work and that it was time to let women into the profession of librarianship because there was a lot of work to be done.

Dr. Hayden certainly has her work cut out for her digitizing, and making fully accessible, the 162 million items in the world’s largest library–in itself another gigantic first. She said she would tweet her way through her discoveries. The head Librarian of Congress as @librarycongress, tweeting–another first, in 140 characters.

Firsts can be tiny or gigantic. They can be exciting and terrifying. First can shake up a routine or shatter a ceiling. Firsts are agents of change. Most importantly, firsts create an opportunity for seconds, and thirds, and so on. This idea of doing something to create opportunity really resonates with me. Dr. Carla Hayden, and, I would say, all librarians, emphasize this as the undercurrent of their service.

What I find most remarkable about Dr. Carla Hayden and her appointment, though, isn’t a first. It’s this:

When Michel Martin asked Hayden, “Tell me, though, at this point in our history, what is the Library of Congress for? I mean, what is a library for?”, Hayden responded:

The library now is even more of a sanctuary and even an opportunity center for so many people. And I’ve been very heartened by the – and I don’t want to get into too many statistics – but the fact that public libraries are used at record numbers now. It’s the physical space. It’s the people that are available for you. We call librarians the original search engines because there is so much information, and you can get a lot of things at your fingertips.

But what you don’t get is that guide on the side, a person who can help you negotiate and think about things, who will help you with this information superhighway, which can be very confusing. And people are wanting to be with other people, too. In fact, a lot of libraries have to create quiet rooms.

In an interview for PBS NewsHour, Hayden said: “Why should you invest in a library, especially a library building, in the time of the digital age? What we found is a library’s place is even more important. There is a hunger in this digital age to hear authors together, to participate in programs, to just be in a place, a community space.”

The main reading room of the Library of Congress, Photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I love that what we are hearing from the Librarian in Chief is the same thing we are hearing from our local librarians. It’s resonating throughout the entire field: libraries make space for all of us, and for whatever we need. They bring us together. They convene, and connect, our community. Libraries provide us with limitless opportunities.

Just think, for a quick second or deeply for days, about all the firsts–and seconds and thirds–our library can help you discover and accomplish. Free, always, for each and every one of us.

Originally published on October 1, 2016 at