319 Remembrances of the library 319, Manhattan Heights
by Steve Fulton
10 minutes before closing time we prepare for the end of the day.
Rosemary calls out from the circulation desk.
“The library is closing in 10 minutes, please bring any materials to check-out up to the front desk.”
The doors of The Manhattan Heights Library don’t have regular locks.
Instead of a key to lock them, you stick an allen wrench into the side of the door.
You twist it out until the interior bolt is flush with the side.
This means the latch of the outer-side of the door will now not function.
Once closed, it cannot be opened again from that side until the bolt is twisted back into its chamber.
On my first day, Ozzie the Library Assistant shows me how the doors work by first locking the front.
Then she lets me lock the back on my own.
I fumble with the door a bit, while trying to hold it open and twist the allen wrench at the same time.
Since we are still technically open I prop the door open with the metal-foot.
I walk back to the back-room and put the keys on the hook on the wall.
Just about a minute later, the phone on the front desk rings.
I hear Ms. Fu, the librarian, talking to the person on the line.
“Okay, yes, we will look into it…”
“Yes, thank you very much for your concern”
She puts down the phone.
Ms. Fu comes to the back room just as I’m about to leave.
“That was a woman from across the street”.
“She was worried that some ‘teenager type’ was messing with the doors.”
She smiles at me.
“See you tomorrow,” she says warmly.
We all walk out together, letting the glass and steel door shut firmly behind us.
I’m 17 years old.
If there is any age at any time in history when someone can be described so aptly as “teenager type,” it is me in 1987.
I’ve been influenced by a perfect storm of New Wave music and John Hughes movies.
My sisters were punk rockers, but I’m something else entirely.
My clothes are second hand, not necessarily out of fashion, but more out of need.
Before I start my senior year I want to land a job.
My twin brother works at Target.
He’s already way ahead of me in our plans to buy a used car.
I try Lucky’s and Thrifty Jr., but they say they don’t hire any kids from Mira Costa.
“You kids are too much trouble.”
When I see the sign on the library window advertising a job for a “Page,” I think I’ve found my fate.
I walk in looking like the guy in the picture accompanying this story.
I ask a lady at the front desk (Rosemary) whom I remember from years back, and she directs me to the librarian, Mrs. Fu.
Mrs. Fu remembers me all the way back from when my mom took us there for story time.
She hires me on the spot.
The next week I go to the Carson library and take my L.A. County Oath.
The next day I start.
The task of a library page is Sisyphean.
Books are returned and put on carts at the circulation desk.
We take the carts to the back room, and arrange them by type.
Adult/Kid, Fiction (alphabetical)/Non-Fiction (Dewey Decimal), Magazines, Records/Tapes.
Every page develops their own system to be the most efficient.
Mine is this:
Use one side for adult books, one side for kids.
Non-fiction first, then fiction.
Magazines and other materials at the bottom.
I push the cart to the shelves and put materials back for the patrons to find.
The trickiest books are the “Mc and Mac” fiction and the 92/920 biographies.
In my six years, I will never get them down fully.
Among the shelves, I imagine the person I will become. The day I have read one of everything.
When the cart is empty, I return to the circulation desk to do it all over again.
But also a task I come to love more than anything in the world.
When I’m not shelving books, I’m in the back putting books in mailers for inter-library loans.
Located at 1560 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Heights is designated as “319”.
All the libraries in LA County are assigned three digit numbers.
I learn many of them by heart.
319 is Manhattan Heights
318 is Manhattan Beach
314 is Hermosa Beach
317 is Lomita
Redondo and Torrance don’t have numbers.
Their libraries are not part of the County.
By November 1987 I’ve saved up enough money to go-in with my brother (who has moved from Target to The Wherehouse) on a 2-door, manual transmission, 1978 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.
We nickname it “the Green Monster.”
It turns out Mrs. Fu is a short timer.
She is reassigned, and is gone less than a year after I arrive.
She’s been the librarian at 319 since I was 3 years old.
I think now that Mrs. Fu might have hired me out of nostalgia.
The next librarian is Mrs. Mohr who starts in the spring of 1988.
She’s a ‘60s radical.
She talks fondly of seeing Joan Baez at Berkeley.
Mrs. Mohr loves the idea of the library.
Her favorite place is behind the reference desk, answering questions.
One of the first things she does is let my friend Brandon (who now works with me as a page) and me order “cool new music” from the materials catalog.
It’s our fault The Clash and Metallica join Bach and Raffi on the CD rack that year.
Mrs. Mohr’s job is to oversee the electronic transformation of the Library.
We spend the summer helping put barcodes on every book.
We remove the check-out cards in each one to discard.
I pause too often to examine the names of the people who once read each one.
Some I recognize.
Some are my family.
Some go back to 1964, when the library opened.
We get new computers at the circulation desk for Ozzie and Rosemary to use.
We get CD-based catalogs and PC computers to run them.
We get a new security system with security tags for all materials.
We get new library cards with barcodes.
It takes a couple years to get it all complete.
Then the cards in the card catalog are thrown in the trash.
In 1989, Brandon and I discover a love for the “The Summer Reading Program”.
Mrs. Mohr lets us design it.
We go wild.
The first year we make coloring pages of Star Wars spaceships.
We tape them to the wall in the kids section creating an enormous space battle.
Each book the kids read equals a spaceship they can color to help destroy The Death Star.
The next summer we create an elaborate Egyptian “scales of knowledge.”
Each book read becomes a brick inscribed with a kid’s name in hieroglyphics.
We tape them to a giant paper scale on the wall with a “cloud of ignorance” on one side and “the bricks of knowledge” on the other.
We imagine ourselves to be clever college kids.
But we overthink it.
It’s too complicated.
Most libraries simply have kids write down their books on a card, then give out free stickers.
Every summer, like clockwork, Merrick Hamer shows up at the library and puts on his one-man-show presentation of “Where The Wild Things Are.”
Brandon and I help set it up.
Merrick is a library aide for 318.
His shows are library legend.
He performs them all over the county.
In the break-room we discuss religion.
He tells us that he’s a Free Mason.
“We believe in the light in the darkness,” he says.
Mrs. Mohr tells us she’s an atheist.
One summer Mrs. Mohr takes us with her to a store in Pasadena where we help her buy more music CDs to add to the library collection.
It’s our fault “Use Your Illusion I & II,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and “Nevermind” are available for checkout that year.
Sitting outside the library one day, waiting to start my shift, a police car rolls up.
A cop gets out with a Mira Costa Vice Principal.
She was my counselor when I went there.
She’s the one who told me I’d never amount to anything.
I don’t think she recognizes me.
“Right there, that ‘teenager type,’” she says pointing in my direction.
“Why aren’t you in school?” the cop asks sheepishly.
“I graduated three years ago, this is my job while in college at CSULB.”
They get in the car and drive away.
I meet a girl at a local “cool” church.
It turns out she has a job working for Parks And Rec, next door to 319, at Manhattan Heights Park.
She works in the Teen Center, which is frequented mostly by tweens.
She’s studying to be a teacher.
I steal over on my break to see her, often.
The girl and I become inseparable.
We go to Bogart’s in Long Beach and The Strand in Redondo to see rock shows together.
We both love the kitsch of ‘70s Disneyland.
We both come from the east side of Sepulveda.
The church doesn’t think we should date.
So we leave the church.
My entire life outside school now centers on the parking lot of 319, between the library and Heights park.
One day the girl will be my wife.
In the fall of 1992, the County is having budget trouble.
They are threatening to close 319.
Mrs. Mohr will not have it.
Mrs. Mohr thinks like a radical.
She throws a “wake” for the library.
We all come dressed in black.
Tables are set-up outside as we invite the patrons to eat baked goods and protest the fate of the library.
NBC news shows up and films us.
I get 10 seconds of my 900 on the news that night.
I watch myself on TV putting away a Bill Peet book in the kids section.
I can’t stand to see myself on camera.
Mrs. Mohr is moved to the West Hollywood branch.
She comes back once-in-a-while.
She’s still technically our librarian.
She seems broken.
The days tick down into the spring of 1993.
In my last months of college I start an internship at a local computer company.
But I still work at 319 on Saturdays.
Soon after, the County drops the ax.
319 is no more.
I come back on the final day.
I work just as diligently as my first day.
Boy do I love this damned job.
I shelve the last cart of books.
The rock is finally pushed over the hill.
The shelves will be picked over.
Some books will go to 318
Some books will be sold.
Some books will be thrown in the trash.
In just a few years Mrs. Mohr will be dead from cancer.
Years from now I will meet patrons who remember me as the “teenager type” who worked at the library.
They will talk fondly of the little round building at 1560 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
How their kids grew up there.
How they can’t believe it is gone.
10 minutes before closing time we prepare for the end of the day.
The library aide calls out from the circulation desk.
“The library is closing in 10 minutes, please bring any materials to check-out up to the front desk.“
I use the allen wrench to lock the front and back doors.
I twist until the interior bolt is flush with the side of the metal door.
I prop the back door open with the metal-foot.
I walk back to the circulation desk.
There is no one in the library.
Everyone seems to know this is the last day.
At 5:00 sharp it is time to leave.
I walk towards the back door with the library aides and the assistant librarian.
We all walk out together, letting the glass and steel door shut firmly behind us. ER