Saturday, October 3, 2009

5. Guerneville Library

Early in the afternoon, on one of the hottest days of the summer, Cheryl, my intrepid library-review companion, and I start the 45-minute drive to Guerneville. Soon we are out of Petaluma and in rolling country, with hayfields, cow pastures, flocks of sheep on either side of the road. A quick dog-leg jog through the quaint town of Sebastopol and we’re out in West County proper. Here the stunning heat is moderated somewhat as we pass through stands of redwoods, bay, oak. Still the AC stays on; a hand on the window confirms that it’s mighty f’ing hot outside, pretty close to a hundred, I'm guessing. (It was.)

We’re heading for the Vacation Wonderland side of Sonoma County, where the Russian River meanders the last few miles to the ocean, and cabins, vacation rentals, and party bars sprout up like mushrooms in a manure patch.  Following 116, we cross the river on a green-painted steel-girder bridge, make a fast left and suddenly we’re smack-dab in downtown Guerneville, probably the largest town out here, certainly the one with the most chi-chi stores.  A quick right turn at the main intersection and in a trice, we’re  upon the library just up the road and across from the fire station. 

Guerneville Library
14107 Armstrong Woods Rd,
Guerneville, CA 95446

Visit time: 2-3 pm, Saturday afternoon.

Books checked out:
The Naked Brain, Richard Restak, M.D. (continuing a theme)
like you'd understand, anyway, Jim Shepard  (all lower case!) (accck!) 

Architecture/atmosphere: 4
Seating: 3
Books: 3 (taking into account its size)
Librarians: 4
Overall:  14

This may be the smallest full-time library in the Sonoma County Library system, but it is no slouch. An appealing structure, clad in a dark green and brown replicating the hues of the surrounding redwoods, it looks to be composed of triangles and circles, with a sharply peaked  roofline and several very large, round, clerestory windows. Below are two views from the parking lot, and below that, the view of the front entrance from the road.

Entering the lobby, the Maggie Boynton Forum room is directly in front of us, with an introduction to Auyervedic Medicine by Dr. Erika Crotta already well underway. Behind the announcement boards, the vaulted ceilings in the library can just be seen. We turn right into the library entrance; I note a counter-stand sign by the drop-off counter that  reminds patrons to wipe items off before returning them, apt testament to the heavy-duty rainy season here. This is flood-central for Sonoma County; Guerneville and its neighbor down-river, Cazadero, record the highest rainfall totals per storm and per year in the county.

Constructed in 1980 and opened in 1981, the library was designed for 18,000 volumes, though dollars to donuts, I’ll bet there are more than that now. With central vaulted ceilings, open beams and plenty of high clerestory light, it feels more spacious than 6,237 sq. ft. would seem to be. For all its compactness, though, this library covers all the bases - fiction, non-fiction (in almost equal numbers, seems to me, which makes my little fictioneer heart go pit-a-pat), periodical shelves, computers for internet and catalog use, three sturdy work tables with sturdy chairs, a row of reading chairs, a distinct children’s area. It’s very quiet, for anything anyone says at one end can be easily heard at the other. With about 10 patrons (men, moms, pre-teens, kids) looking for books, reading at the tables, surfing the interwebs, it feels full and lively.

The librarian is very helpful and kind, but reluctant to approve interior shots. I can see why; virtually no shot except straight up would exclude people. I dearly want to grab a photo of the stained-glass circular window placed high in the apex of one wall, a balanced design of colored rectangles by Robert Moore that reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright, but I refrain.

All in all, a most pleasant experience. For its size, I found the collection quite adequate, with something of interest in every century of Dewey’s decimals and plenty of heavy hitters in the fiction. Here, though, the benefits of the SC Library system stand revealed. If a book isn’t on the shelf here, it is bound to be in some other library in the system. Put in a request and the item will arrive in a matter of days, as long as there aren’t previous requests for it. And if it isn’t in our system, there is a reciprocal agreement with Mendocino Library system. Pretty difficult to stump the system. Though some do try.

I check out my three books, a book on the brain (again!), one on sleep (there are times when it feels like I’m allergic to sleep) and the third, a collection of short stories by Jim Shepard (haven't read much of his work). My companion, pleased with her selection on textiles and color, and I, happy with my three volumes, walk back into the heat of the afternoon, slide into my car blessed with AC, and proceed down-river to a mutual friend’s open-house-warming party. (Though some might wish for a house-cooling party). This is the sort of the afternoon to linger by the river, mulling on the reason for ripples and the direction of currents, as the rest of the county bakes on.


  1. Here is a story about the innate story about the value the public library. I was camping with friends near Burlington VT. over the summer and knew that there was a Contra Dance on Friday night, but I did not know where. I do not have access to the web while on the road, but I mentioned to my friend that the perfect solution would involve a public library. We drove in to Burlington and we parked an started walking towards the dining district, when I spied the sign that bring joy to hearts of millions "PUBLIC LIBRARY" with an arrow pointing right. Two blocks later we found the building, and it was a beautiful building inside and out.Once in side, it was short search to find the public computers, which were all being used, but attending librarian put our name on the list, and proceeded to help us on her computer. We left with Google map to the dance after paying .10 cent for the printing. We got to the dance after dinner. Being part of the dance was our key to being part of the community, not just a tourist. This is the America I love. Libraries are one of the best ways we have of building communities.

  2. I totally agree. This project is introducing me to all the many ways libraries are not only about books. As the inter-schnitzel becomes more and more the way we communicate, I see libraries as gaining in importance and prominence. Cool story, btw!

  3. Lakin,

    Fun blog with beautiful pics.

    Thank you for checking out my blog; am tempted to jump back on, as my husband just returned from Montana with some terrific elk photos. And your blog makes me realize what I've been missing, Ron Carlson's Kool-Aid or no!

    Please keep in touch --


  4. Renee,
    Thanks for stopping by! I enjoy your blog, too, and will link to it. (I know you'll get back to blogging eventually) You've got some stunning photos there and such a thorough knowledge of the natural world. I admire your ability to id birds; I feel like I'm just starting out.

    yes, let's stay in touch....



Noise makers!