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A library worth checking out
December 06, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

If libraries were comparable to highly-ranked restaurants, the Redwood City facility would be the French Laundry, Alinea and El Bulli all rolled into one.

Fortunately for patrons of the Redwood City branch, they need neither a reservation two months out or a tall stack of hundreds as bribery for a seat inside.

The Redwood City Library announced this week it is the recipient of a five-star rating from the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service, making it one of only two statewide with such high marks and the top-rated of any size for the entirety of California.

That’s right; not one of the libraries, but "the” library. Take a bow, Redwood City!

Not to knock any of San Mateo County’s other libraries, but Redwood City is in pretty sparse company locally, according to the journal.

The San Mateo County Library made the cut with four stars which is certainly nothing to sneeze at but five stars? Now that’s really saying something.

Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service is but in an announcement by Redwood City Library Director Dave Genesy he calls it the premier national rating system. Who am I to quibble with that?

The rating is pretty awesome for several reasons, primarily the proof that people still read actual books. Sure, many folks probably look to the library for lots of other needs — a parental breather during children’s reading hour, pilfering of free WiFi, perusing a cornucopia of magazines to keep up on the latest Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart scandal, the downloading of e-books onto readers and movies onto tablets. Did you know the library offers an e-reader "petting zoo” to give the devices a try? And Wii gaming? This is not the library of my youth. But somehow, actual bound books are still the backbone of a brick-and-mortar library.

In all fairness, books themselves aren’t the only reason for the five-star ranking. The score also includes per capita measures of how many things are borrowed, how many people visit, the types of programs, public Internet use and attendance at events. Taken together, this means the people in Redwood City must really like their library. Heck, they must love their library.

Now the challenge for the Redwood City Library is maintaining. The biggest problem with being the best is remaining the best.

On the other hand, the county’s other libraries have the challenge of netting those stars. The journal concedes its own ratings have nothing to do with quality, excellence or service to the community. Those intangibles are near impossible to put a price on.

That said, there are a few things the other branches might consider doing to drum up attention. Hot librarians, for one. Sure, it’s a cliché. It may also perk up those attendance levels. Extra credit if those librarians can find new and inventive ways to tell loud patrons to "Ssssh!”

A new cataloging system is also a nice touch. Dewey Decimal is so yesterday. Let’s go with straight alphabetical. Or colored spines. Number of pages. You get the idea.

Then again, vintage is pretty popular. Perhaps a return to microfiche, just for old times sake? Doing so could also increase the number of library visits because patrons will need that much more time to figure out how to actually use microfiche. Same goes with card catalogs and encyclopedias — hey, what are those?

Or, gimmicks aside, maybe those who haven’t checked out any of the county’s libraries lately should give them a whirl. Stars are fantastic but a personal visit is probably the best, and certainly the most personal, way to see how they stack up.

Michelle Durand’s column "Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor:

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