Birthday celebration planned for home-grown
By Earl Bates
Germinated from an idea, it's
been 110 years since Ojai Library first sprouted, and 75 years
since it was successfully transplanted into its home in the now-historic
Carleton Winslow building.
People can be known by the books they read, according to an old
proverb, and similarly, a community can be known by the library
"I think libraries take their character a lot from the community
in which they are found," said Ventura County Library Director
Ojai residents are known for creating and maintaining a very
well-loved library, one of the most distinguished small community
libraries in California.
Circulation is one vital sign of a library's health; Ojai residents
flow through their library as if foraging for essential nutrients.
Their enthusiasm for learning has established for Ojai Library
as the highest per capita usage in the county library system.
Frequent library visitation is common in well-educated communities,
"That's typical," said Kreissman, "but I think
it goes way beyond that in Ojai. You have a community of people
who are very interested in learning about all kinds of things,
and they value reading. And you have a community that supports
its library to an incredible level."
Ojai's dedication to creating and maintaining a healthy library
is a blossom of the community's perennial concern with education.
Sherman Thacher, founder of The Thacher School, was seminal from
the beginning and through the early years of Ojai Library. "He
started the library with $500, but that was a long time ago,"
said Thacher's daughter Hattie Herrick.
A headline in the May 24, 1893 issue of the community's newspaper,
The Ojai, stated, "The way made clear at the public meeting
yesterday to accept the liberal gift of the relatives of the
late George Thacher."
The article continued, "Those present were very enthusiastic,
and if the same sentiment generally prevails, as it should, a
free library here, on a firm financial foundation, is fully assured
The donors simply ask that the books be suitably housed, and
that the people provide means for maintaining the library so
it will serve all the people."
The Thacher family's special gift of vision, time and money was
the seed that started the library. That first $500, equal to
about $10,000 in today's dollars, purchased books for the original
"This sum would not be sufficient to carry on the work,
so the interest and cooperation of the Ojai Club and entire community
was asked," recounted former Ojai librarian, Zaidee Soule.
And there began a tradition of symbiosis, the people of Ojai
nurtured the library and the library nourished the community.
Ojai Library became the first branch of the Ventura County Library
System in 1916, and by 1927 plans were being made for a building
and location that would be the most suitable for the community.
"Sherman Thacher and other public-spirited people formed
a volunteer library committee " according to Soule. "There
was a call for subscriptions and thanks to Edward Libbey Charles
Pratt and many others. eough money was promised to justify making
Ojai Library was moved from Montgomery Street to its present
place at the corner of Ventura Street and Ojai Avenue in 1928.
The planting of the library at this gateway-to-the-village location
was the vision of Edward Libbey. It had always been Libbey's
dream to have a library at this site, according to trustees of
the Libbey estate.
Enthusiastic community involvement is one element of Ojai Library's
character, Kreissman said, and there are several other key ingredients,
including the library's staff, the services they provide, and
the building that houses it. "In Ojai you have a distinct
historic building, which, of course, is now being studied for
expansion," said Kreissman.
"Back in 1989 a library consultant was hired and at that
time he identified the need for a larger library," said
current Ojai librarian, Kit Willis. "We are to the point
now that when we add a new book we have to remove an old book."
And the library functions as much more than a source of reading
material. "One of the roles of a public library is to serve
as a community center," said Willis. "To do that we
need to provide space for meetings and cultural programs."
The budget for the library has been on the line time and time
again, and the people of Ojai have kept it alive and growing
with the community. In 1996, Ojai voted for a parcel tax for
the library, and it's still the only one in the county with this
kind of support.
During the campaign for the parcel tax, residents concerned with
maintaining a well-cultivated library walked Ojai's precincts
to discuss the issue with voters.
Ann Crozier, then Ojai librarian, was one of the first walkers
out talking with people. She was greeted by an apparently friendly
Australian shepherd dog in front of a residence. When the man
of the house came to the door, he said he would not be voting
for the tax. Crozier asked him why, and they discussed the issue
for several minutes.
After the conversation, as she turned to leave, the dog bit the
librarian on her buttocks. "I regret that I have but one
ass to give for my library," Crozier said while recounting
the episode. "Ann is the only person who could convert a
dog bite on the backside into an element of a winning political
campaign," commented Ojai resident George Berg.
The Ojai Library is currently staffed by three full-time librarians
and a number of part-time employees. Also, more than 100 volunteers
from the community help with the many tasks, projects and programs.
"Everywhere I go I hear nothing but praise for the staff
of the Ojai Library," said county library director Kreissmann.
"Whenever I am up there, or at a community event, people
will say, 'I want you to know the staff of our library is so
friendly and so helpful.'"
"It has been my goal to make Ojai Library a place where
people feel welcome, feel happy to be there," said librarian
Willis. "I like working in the Ojai community because this
community supports its library and really uses its library."
Ojai Library patron Brenda Loree said, "Ojai Library rules!
It is so wonderful! I wish that every library in the world could
be as enjoyable and as enriching as Ojai Library because then
it would be a perfect world."
Ojai is recognized around the world for having a special sense
of place, it is known as a cultured community living within a
natural environment and as a sanctuary within the golden-souled
land of California. Ojai Library, rooted in its Carleton Winslow
design building, and the Pratt House, a Greene and Greene masterpiece,
are two kindred focals of Ojai's sense of place.
Ojai Library's birthday party, organized by a committee of volunteers
co-chaired by residents Pat Weinberger and Bill Moses, will be
held June 21 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Pratt House. The celebration
will feature docent tours of the Pratt House, recently honored
by the National Register of Historic Places. Also planned is
a live auction, musical entertainment, hors d'oeuvres, and drinks.
Tickets are $35 per person, proceeds will benefit Ojai Library.
Everyone is invited to attend, call 646-2353 for information
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
Ojai Library as it appeared in 1928.