You could read it on her face: Excitement. Purpose. Pride.
“This just means that I’m contributing to this effort,” said Judith Loftus, a volunteer for the Friends of the Goleta Valley Library. “It’s a great library.”
A couple of Thursdays ago, Loftus was one of many volunteers helping sort recently donated books as well as the newly purchased toys and comfortable furniture for the library’s soon-to-open Family Corner, a section of the library set aside for parents and their children to spend time reading and relaxing. What made the Family Corner possible — even in times where libraries are getting leaner and their services more limited — isn’t just the library’s recent influx of grant funding. It’s almost a reality due to the direct efforts of these Friends, a 1,000-member-strong base of supporters.
Founded more than 30 years ago, the nonprofit Friends of the Goleta Valley Library relies entirely on a flock of loyal donors and devoted volunteers to fund and organize its ongoing book sale, annual Signed Book Silent Auction, and occasional Sunday-afternoon lectures. Whether they lend their time or lend their money — or both — the Friends feel passionately about their organization and the library they work so hard to preserve.
“We are dedicated Goletans,” said the group’s spokesperson, Mahela Morrow-Jones. “We adore our town. People contribute. This is a supportive, active community with the City of Goleta behind us all the way.” Earlier this month, for instance, the Goleta City Council awarded the Friends $500 as part of the city’s Community Grants Program.
“Libraries are one of the easiest things to cut,” said Councilmember Margaret Connell, noting how the state recently slashed all of its library funding. Explaining that the Friends’ lobbying to keep the library open on Monday afternoons — even when other libraries have had to close their doors at that same time — was “tremendous,” Connell praised the organization’s “initiative.” In addition to the support of county government, Connell said that the Friends “have been critical to keeping the library going the way that it is.”
Recognition for the library even transcends the local bounds. Around the same time that the Friends received $500 from the city, the library was granted $15,000 from the California State Library. And in an act of, well, friendship, the Friends matched $6,001 to that grant. Lumped together, the money is going toward the aforementioned Family Corner, a place that Morrow-Jones eagerly anticipates.
“It’s never too soon” for children to start reading, she said. “We try to get the kids when they’re young.”
And they try to keep them for years to come, too. In addition to creating a Teen Room for angst-ridden adolescents looking for angst-ridden stories with which they can relate, the Friends regularly host free Sunday-afternoon lectures on topics ranging from science to history to music, said Friends president Corinne Horowitz.
For frequent lecture attendee Ray Lee, there’s plenty to praise about the program, especially for retirees such as himself. “It’s the intellectual stimulation — you read, you take classes,” he said on a recent Sunday while attending a lecture about managing cholesterol. And Lee takes that stimulation seriously. “I’ve made it through golf tournaments and the Super Bowl,” he said, laughing.
Lee’s fellow Friend, Bev Torres, also attending the cholesterol lecture, likewise lauded the library. “This place is the City Hall of the community,” she said. “It counts more than anyplace else.”
For two-time lecturer Dr. Jennifer Hone, providing the attendees with interesting information — be it medical, intellectual, or otherwise — is a public service, and the location doesn’t hurt either. “There is a street cred that comes from giving a lecture at the library,” she said. “It’s a setting people associate with learning.”
Thanks to the Friends, said Horowitz, the Goleta Library has also become a place where teenagers can feel safe and job-seekers can feel purposeful. Not only did the group successfully keep the library open on Mondays — which means that students from the nearby Goleta Valley Junior High have a place to study every day of the week — the Friends also purchased the computers that many unemployed people use to work on résumés and search for work.
“We invest our money well, and we keep going,” said Morrow-Jones. “A library like this can go a long way with a little money.”
Jeff Garfinkle knows that. He’s been a Friend of the library for a long time, an allegiance he largely attributes to the organization’s ability to make good use of its funds. “We still have a great library,” he said. “It’s more than just a library. It’s not just for books. It’s a community place.”
The Friends of the Goleta Valley Library’s annual Signed Book Silent Auction runs through April 30. The grand opening of the Family Corner will be held on Thursday, May 3, at 10:30 a.m. To learn more or contribute, see friendsofthegoletavalleylibrary.com.