Three years after being built on the lot of the old Quement Electronics store, a Silicon Valley institution that served generations of ham radio enthusiasts and electronic engineers from the Great Depression into the late 1990’s, the Bascom Library finally opened its doors to the general public last month. This excited and disappointed me at the same time.
The money to build the new library branch came from a voter-approved bond initiative in 2000. After construction completed in 2010, the fences never came down. The City of San Jose cut the library budget every year during the Great Recession that there wasn’t enough money to keep the current libraries open for more than four days out of the week.
A budget surplus made opening of the community center possible last year. The fences came down and cars filled the empty parking lot, but the library was still closed. After the New Year, moving trucks showed up in the parking and workers pushed carts of books into the library. An opening date got announced for late February.
My roommate and I checked out the new library on a recent Saturday.
As I feared and expected, the 99-space parking lot was full. A quarter of the spaces went to the disabled, school buses and electric vehicles. Spaces for the disabled and school buses I can understand, but the Prius worship in Silicon Valley goes too far. The empty parking spots behind the adjacent funeral home had a sign announcing no library parking allowed. No parking on the neighborhood side was available. We parked on the Bascom Avenue side. A busy street that makes getting out of the driver side an adventure in timing.
My initial impression walking into the library that it’s very small. This was not the library I have envisioned as I drove by the chain-linked fences for three years. The new library that opened at San Jose City College in 2003 was larger than this. With the recent closing of Barnes & Noble down the street at The Pruneyard, I was hoping that the new library would replace it as a hangout spot. I doubt I’ll be allowed to browse the stacks with mocha in hand.
The sad reality is that the libraries never make money for the city. A councilman suggested replacing retiring librarians with volunteers to save money. Someone always call for shutting down the libraries because most citizens don’t use them. A community center has rooms for rent and a gym with membership fees that go into the city’s coffers, which would explain why the library takes up so little space in the 20,000-square-feet building.
We walked through the entire library in five minutes. The layout made every corner viewable from the reference desk. With a high school down the street, perhaps the layout discourages teenagers from finding a copy of “The Joy of Sex” by Alex Comfort and having illicit sex in the stacks. Not that the three-row deep stacks can conceal anything from the librarian’s eyes.
I found no writer-friendly cubbyholes. If I came here to write, I would have to sit at a table with everyone else and write like a performance artist. This library is a place to borrow and return books, not a writing haven to get away from everything else.