Librarian Writes a New Chapter

Manager Jon Gilliom, a self-confessed comic book fan, amid the graphic novel section he started at the Laguna branch library. Photo by Charlie Craig
Manager Jon Gilliom, a self-confessed comic book fan, amid the graphic novel section he started at the Laguna branch library. Photo by Charlie Craig

By Donna Furey | LB Indy

Jon Gilliom took on the job as Laguna Beach’s library branch manager a little more than a year ago and he is already helping rewrite what library patrons can expect to find amid the stacks.

Gilliom, who holds a degree in literature and has studied computer science, discovered that his love of books and his interest in technology blended happily in the library. After earning a master’s degree in library and information science from San Jose State University’s distance education program, he landed his first librarian position at the tiny, windowless OC Public Libraries’ Laguna Hills technology branch.

There he and fellow librarian Alissa Zach applied for and won a digital storytelling grant from the state library system. They were given the equipment to get them started with OC Stories, which began in February and will endeavor to preserve Orange County history by chronicling “daily life through the years,” Gilliom explained.

The project was launched with a “scanning day” which was held at three branch locations outside Laguna Beach. Those interested in sharing their historical photos or journals could bring them to be copied and added to the data bank. At the events, which were somewhat sparsely attended, the two were able to compile a list of contacts for use in gathering further historical information.

In a partnership with UC Irvine, students will record and edit video interviews with people sharing their history. “The final product will either be a video of the speaker, or their voice track playing over photographs that they provide, depending on the nature of the story,” Gilliom said.

Zack, who still works in the Laguna Hills tech branch, and Gilliom’s collected stories will be uploaded to the California of the Past website and possibly other websites in the state library system. A privacy release signed by participants makes them available free to the public.

While most assume a public library’s primary purpose is lending books without charge, less well known is the breadth of the digital information available to its patrons beyond the wealth of knowledge amassed within its books, videos and periodicals. The library subscribes to databases that are not generally accessible to the average Google user. The database Opposing Viewpoints, for instance, allows teachers to obtain lesson plans and students to research various topics. On Mango, a library computer user can learn a foreign language.  On Zinio, patrons can browse Vogue, People, Seventeen and other popular magazines for free.

A better known library service called Overdrive, enables card holders to download free eBooks, audio books and videos to an electronic device or to just read the book straight from the browser on their home computer.

And last month, Laguna’s library was retrofitted with improved Internet connections due to a fiber optic upgrade, said Paula Bruce, an assistant county librarian. Soon the patron Internet stations will also be upgraded and run on a powerful new server. This will give the patrons better performance when browsing the web or working on applications, she said.

In addition to the library’s well-patronized Internet stations, patrons include seniors who come to read the paper and check out multiple copies of hardback books, grandmothers bringing young ones for story time and those who come to check out movies for weekend viewing.

The only downside to providing digital library options is the cost. The county budget does not allow extra money for purchasing digital books in multiple formats, Gilliom said. As a result, the library is that much more dependent on the Friends of the Library to supplement its resources. The Friends’ bookshop, speakers and the annual Ladies Who Lunch & Read fundraiser, this year at the restaurant 370 Common on May 6, help keep the library’s budget balanced and all the activities going.

Not everything new at the library involves the digital world. Gilliom, a self-confessed comic book fan, started up a graphic novel section. In order to make completing summer reading assignments easier for students, Gilliom has also pumped up the classics and teen sections.

As well, the library’s 16th annual poetry contest is underway this month. Poets in seven categories beginning with pre-K up through adult can submit their entries. Winners will will be invited to read their poem at an awards ceremony at a future date. A booklet containing all the winning poems will be  published by the library and offered free, to the public.

The tireless Gilliom insists, “the book is not dead at all.” With 6.4 million physical visits to the 34 branches in the Orange County library system and 6.8 million items checked out last year, it seems he may be right.

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