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Friends of the La Mesa Library celebrate half-century of literary service at 50th birthday party this month

Fiftieth birthday parties are often occasions for celebrating longevity and hopes for a bright future of healthy activity. The commemoration of the Friends of the La Mesa Library’s half  century of volunteer operations, dubbed the group’s 50th Birthday Party, was no exception. The event was celebrated on Saturday, March 9, in (where else?) the La Mesa Community Library.

The three-hour party kicked off with a concert in the children’s reading area from local bluegrass ensemble The Shirthouse Band. The intermission featured snacks and crafts for kids, including an East County clown from Free Spirits Face Painting, offering youngsters a choice of fun character “makeovers.”

The day’s formal schedule concluded with another lovely concert performed by San Diego singer-songwriter Sara Petite.

The library’s branch manager, Chelsie Harris, was enthusiastic with praise for the La Mesa Library’s “Friends.”

“From the library’s perspective, we’ve received 50 years of advocacy and support, including over $200,000 donated to support our library,” Harris said. She detailed the nonprofit group’s efforts, which provide concerts, children’s crafts activities, games and pizza nights in the facility, and new books and DVD’s to fill the library’s shelves.

“And they are out there advocating on our behalf in the community,” Harris said. “We are happy to be co-hosting this party today.”

John Schmitz has been president of the Friends of the La Mesa Library for eight years. “I try to remind people, as often as I can, that libraries are evolving,” Schmitz said. “There are not just places with lots of books anymore. There are over a dozen computer stations in this library. And this facility is big on technology and Wi-Fi in here. A library visitor can even check out a laptop to use while in the building.”

Schmitz elaborated on why the organization he leads does what it does.

“The library itself is a community gathering space,” Schmitz said. He recounted a recent interaction with a teacher from Helix High School, who told him that her students consider the library a safe place to meet, as well as a community resource.

“I may be president now,” Schmitz said, “but we are only the latest link in a chain of community volunteers.”

Schmitz cited in particular the La Mesa Women’s Club for thanks for that fellow group’s efforts in organizing the Friends of the La Mesa Library.

The Friends run an on-site bookstore that brings in money for the group’s support of literacy in the library. Schmitz noted that over the course of 11 years, his organization has raised $210,000 and donated over $200,000 of that amount.

Schmitz gave a brief history of the existing library facility.

About 16 or 17 years ago, La Mesa sought a permanent library and requested a state grant for the purpose. After being denied that money, the city chose to locate the library in the “big box” building now in use. Schmitz observed that the building was not designed to be a library, and is inadequate, at 10,000 square feet, serving a city of 65,000 residents.

“La Mesa needs a bigger library, and we need to get that message out more,” Schmitz said.

Petite rounded out the day’s festivities with an hour’s solo performance accompanying her singing on guitar. Petite’s songs have a breadth of emotional range, from adventurous to thoughtful and sentimental, to playful and humorous. She also told stories about the life circumstances that factored into her songwriting.

“This is like playing in my grandmother’s living room,” Petite said during the concert.

Afterward, Petite summed up her experience. “I loved it,” she said. “I love playing acoustic shows in the libraries. I just unplug, tell stories and play my songs.”

Schmitz was also pleased with the party. “This has been a good day,” he said. “Plenty of people attended to show support for us and our efforts for the library.”

Source: East County Californian

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