Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Quiet Comfort and Joy of the Newhall Library

The Santa Clarita Valley does not lend itself to a penchant for exploration of all corners of one's home surroundings. I only state that as a non-native, having lived here for merely six years, but you get into a pattern. You stick with what you know. There are two Wal-Marts in this valley, one a Supercenter, two Targets, both the same, two Ralph's supermarkets, one a Fresh Fare, and so on. You know what you can find at the regular Ralph's in Valencia, and what's at the Fresh Fare that you can't find at the regular Ralph's. There's not a lot of desire to seek out something different within the valley, and the valley recognizes this by not changing much on its own. Even to this day, Santa Clarita is still only known by its one major landmark: Six Flags Magic Mountain. Tell someone you live in Santa Clarita, and they might not know where you are. Mention Six Flags, and they get a general idea of where you are. It's pretty typical, and I learned that when we went to Six Flags as tourists, back in April of 2003 on a day with a stinging chilly drizzle: I only knew the rollercoasters in front of me as I walked the park. Even on Goliath, which takes you fairly high before pointing you down steeply, I didn't notice the entire working valley behind it.

Another example would be the Michael Douglas film called King of California. His character emerges from the "Santa Clarita Department of Mental Health," which doesn't exist, and it's obviously why writer-director Mike Cahill set his film here, even though a good portion of it was filmed at other locations. The valley easily gives itself up to stand in for other locations because there's nothing distinctive about it.

When the Valencia library closed for two months in early December, I immediately decided to pick up my holds at the Canyon Country library. Valencia offered a bookmobile parked in the lot there for picking up holds, but I wanted an actual library. I wanted to browse if I felt like it. And having been to the Canyon Country library, enamored with its massive back wall full of novels, that's where I wanted to be every Saturday. Then, reality, as documented in the entry "A Library Stocked with Disappointment." However, I was wrong about the Newhall library. Very, very wrong. A Wayne Szalinski-designed building, maybe, but not what I discovered.

Mom decided we'd start in Newhall today, wending our way to Canyon Country. Though the library looked ridiculously small when we drove past it last week, she wanted to see the inside, and I could return my books. So we parked in the small lot to the right of the building and walked the sidewalk in front of the building to the entrance. We walked in, and regret cascaded through me. Six years in this valley and I couldn't think of being a regular patron of this library? Right as you walk in, you see the new books across from the checkout desk. Teen books on the left, one set of shelves devoted to those, and the rest from there to the right, full of new books. After that, to the left of the new books, are two locked vertical glass cases containing DVDs to rent. $1 a day. Star Trek was in there, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many others I liked. To the right of the case on the right were the DVDs to check out on one's library card. To the left of the other case were the CDs. Both sets of shelves protruded into the children's book area, but what an area. This is where any little kid should discover words and all the marvelous things that can happen when they're linked together. There's a window big enough to let in some sunshine, right where it's needed, right where kids can sit and read.

The right side of the small, yet oh-so-valuable building, is devoted to adult and teen reading. Novels, travel books, the Meg Cabot Collection (it can be called a collection here, much to my sister's delight, who noticed a shelf full of hardcover Cabot books, and cloth-lined baskets on each side of those novels, filled with Cabot paperbacks), biographies, all on shelves that are close enough to each other to browse with immense pleasure in a devoted reader's heart, yet far enough not to be overwhelmed by the books, as it admittedly tends to be with the Valencia branch where three people in the same aisle is a bothersome crowd.

We and an elderly woman at the library catalog computer were the only people there at that hour. Mom looked at their magazine selection, which is far better than what Canyon Country offered. They had the magazines she regularly reads at Valencia, as well as the table space to stretch out a bit, plus a window near the ceiling which allowed sunshine to beam on the table we were sitting at, next to the magazines.

The books to buy were to the right of the exit, a modest yet truer collection than I've seen at the Valencia library. Truer, because you can actually know a little about the people who donated these books and magazines. There was a Joyce Carol Oates novel, Middle Age: A Romance, and Model Airplane Magazine. Meridith first thought the magazine title was "Modern Aviation," and I perked up because I wanted to read more about the Airbus A380 than I have already. It's an ugly, ungainly-looking airliner, but I'm fascinated by its construction and what led to its creation, besides the apparent need to carry more passengers than the Boeing 747. No matter, though. I was happily surprised to find that someone in this valley read Joyce Carol Oates and someone was into model airplanes. I imagine there are more, but I'm glad just to know that there are a few, because I never expected it here.

Sitting at that table next to the magazines, with the sun having a clear view through that window, I wanted this to be my library. I imagined books of my own lining these shelves, and I would definitely move my bed there as well as everything else in my room. And there would be room for it. Plus, most importantly, the people working at this library looked like they actually wanted to be there. They were pleasant. This library is so relaxed, so welcoming, and it showed when I asked one of the librarians if I could bring the box I took from the Valencia library that used to contain my holds. I told her that I put a fair amount of books on hold and she said that I'd have some stiff competition. I joked that she didn't know me yet. She called someone working in the back, most likely the manager of the branch, who allowed it. I thought of bringing the box to Canyon Country, before I fully experienced it, but that would have been useless anyway, because only two of my holds were on the first shelf. The rest were sitting above the first shelf, at the top. I wouldn't have needed the box anyway. But because the Newhall library keeps the holds on shelves behind the counter, and because it looks like the shelves would sag once my holds arrive there (for the next week only), I'm happy to give them my box. It looks like it'd have a wonderful home there.

I wish I had gone to this library five years ago (our first year, we lived in an apartment in Valencia, and walking to that library was very convenient). This would have been my sanctuary, getting me away from all that frustrates me about this valley. After five years, I don't think I would have been so unsatisfied here, maybe a lot less, as some frustrations always remain. Or, you know, maybe this is the valley's attempt at a peace offering, knowing that I'm excited about becoming a resident of Las Vegas, wanting me to eventually leave it on decent terms. Makes for an easier transition. I just hope I can find a library in Vegas that matches this total-happiness-in-every-part-of-my-body experience.