When the library doors opened on December 27 at 10 a.m., Palisades Branch Senior Librarian Mary Hopf welcomed two longtime members of the community.
“We missed you so much,” she said.
The two responded, “Not as much as we missed you.”
Inside, the library space was immaculate and freshly painted, with new lighting throughout the building and a beautiful purple carpeting selected by Hopf, clerk George Clairborne and messenger clerk Oscar Palencia.
There were also balloons and a plate of bagels, brought over by Laura Schneider, president of the Friends of the Palisades Library.
Last July, when renovations began, resident Lou Kamer asked if the library could install faster internet service.
L.A. Public Library Public Relations Director Peter Persic responded, “When the branch reopens it will have the same internet system and speeds, which are consistent with those in all our libraries.”
But today, Hopf said, “We have faster WiFi.”
Residents have been without their beloved library for almost two years. First came the Covid pandemic, which forced all 73 City libraries to close in mid-March 2020.
Then came the ceiling fire in the library on October 8, 2020, while the library was still closed.
An automatic fire alarm went to Fire Station 69 at 7:10 a.m. Stationed just a block from the library, firemen responded immediately and noticed smoke on the roof. Captains Robert Bates and Jeff Brown asked for additional resources and Fire Stations 23, 63 and 19 and Battalion 9 responded.
Then Circling the News reported, “According to Battalion 9 Chief Joseph Everett, the fire was caused by an electrical light that was arcing (sparking). He said, ‘The fire probably started last night,’ but the smoke was only apparent this morning.”
When firefighters arrived, they went to the roof to make cuts, not only to ventilate the fire, but to pinpoint the fire and stop it from spreading through the space between the metal roof and the wood roof throughout the building.
The sprinklers, which are in sections of the library, were going off in the area where there was smoke — in the children’s section.
Firefighters covered the books with plastic sheeting and shut off the sprinkler system in order to minimize damage.
It took 30 firefighters about 50 minutes to knock down the fire. Some of the books in the children’s section did receive water from the sprinklers, and the carpet was soaked. But it appeared that the plastic placed by firefighters minimized the damage.
Kopf said that she was told that the way that the library had been constructed possibly saved the building because firefighters told her that “the whole library could have burned down.
“It was built carefully, with almost no crawl space,” she said. “That meant that it didn’t allow fuel for the fire, and it minimized the effects of the fire.”
Damage was limited to mostly children’s fiction and a small portion of non-fiction, according to Hopf. She said that children’s librarian Gail Kim was already reordering and that within a half a year, the books could be replaced.
Hopf told Circling the News that during the Palisades library’s extended repair work, she and fellow staff members worked at other L.A. libraries and gathered ideas that they want to implement here.
One is to put the books that are placed on hold at a front rack, so a customer can go pick them out, rather than have to ask a librarian for them.
They have also set up a section that is strictly for young adults, and a section that is strictly for children, “which will make it a little easier to monitor,” Hopf said. “We hope to expand both collections.”
She added, “We’re trying to make room for a lot more material. We’re so excited to be back!”
When you visit the library, look for resident Barbara Birenbaum, who is now working part-time at the branch.
And welcome George Clairborne, who will be working full-time here, while attending USC for his master’s degree in library science, starting January 12. He received his bachelor’s degree in jazz performance from Cal State L.A. and has worked for the last nine years in various libraries as an administrative clerk.