Napa County Library Director Danis Kreimeier sees libraries as places to check out books, sure, but also to check out a bird-watching kit or to attend a program on art.
“Unlike school, where you have to be a certain level, here you can just put your toe in the water,” she said.
And no one’s grading you at what Kreimeier called the “people’s university,” conjuring up a phrase long used to described libraries in America. Patrons can even check out a guitar to see if they’re interested in playing before buying one themselves.
“It’s totally judgment free,” Kreimeier said. “We don’t judge. We’re information-neutral.”
As Napa County’s library director since 2008, Kreimeier helped to shape this local information world. She is retiring from the job in December.
Kreimeier, while growing up in Covina, wasn’t dreaming of someday being a librarian. In fact, while in high school, she dreamed of getting away from the library. Her parents would drop her off at the front door to do homework and she’d go out another door to be with friends.
“I kind of joke that it’s a cosmic payback that I have now spent my whole adult life in the library,” she said.
That cosmic payback began when she was finishing her English degree at Cal State Fullerton and wanted a part-time job. She started at the Fullerton public library in the children’s section shelving books.
As time went on, she started helping with the summer reading club and story time. Library work became more than a paycheck.
“I got to see that it was actually very creative and not just the stereotype that you think of a librarian,” Kreimeier said.
A career was born that ultimately brought her to Napa County in 2008 to head the local public library system. Since then, the system has seen a number of changes, among them:
— The Yountville branch moved to its present location in the Yountville Community Center in 2010.
— The Napa Main Library in 2011 underwent a $643,000 first floor remodel.
— The American Canyon branch in 2012 moved from a commercial building to the former City Hall building.
— A new online catalog debuted in 2016, including access to Link +, which allows patrons to check out items from more than 60 other libraries in California, Nevada and Arizona.
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— The Calistoga branch was remodeled in 2016 at a cost of more than $1 million.
— The Napa Main Library in 2016-17 saw another $2.7 million in work, including a remodeled children’s section, redesigned circulation and administration areas and the addition of automatic book sorting.
Then there are smaller changes, such as the addition of an outdoor vending machine to lend movies in 2017 and the Library of Things in 2018 that makes guitars, telescopes, ukuleles and other items available for checkout.
Almost everybody may have a smartphone these days, but Kreimeier doesn’t see the “people’s university” as becoming a musty relic.
Some studies show that millennials use the library more than other age groups, she said. They participate in the shared economy and can get materials from the library for free without owning them.
“The library is probably the oldest ‘green’ economy you can think of,” Kreimeier said.
Today’s local libraries are about more than book stacks. They are libraries, not museums, so they are trying to change with the times.
“There are so many different ways now to read,” Kreimeier said. “You can read a book, you can read an article, you can read a tweet, you can stream something, listen to audio. It’s not just the flat, printed word, anymore. It comes in all different formats.”
During the recent Pacific, Gas & Electric public safety power shutoffs, people flocked to the Napa Main Library, which still had electricity. Kreimeier said the door count rose 92 percent and the Wi-Fi usage rose 600 percent.
The library served as a place where people could connect with each other – and to the internet. Kreimeier sees libraries as continuing to be a community hub, even when PG&E isn’t trying to prevent wildfires by imposing blackouts in other parts of the county.
“People have a yearning – there’s like the third place,” Kreimeier said. “There’s home, there’s work. We’re the one other place where you can go where you don’t have to pay and you can just be.”
Kreimeier will soon go from being library director to patron. She won’t have to go far to reach the Napa Main Library, as she lives within walking distance.
She likely won’t get to retirement without receiving a proclamation from Napa County. The Board of Supervisors indicated at its Nov. 19 meeting that a paper with lots of “whereases” and a “therefore” is headed her way at a future meeting.
“We’ll make sure to celebrate you in a few weeks and congrats on your pending retirement, and we’ll miss you,” Board of Supervisors Chair Ryan Gregory said.