POSADA PARTNERS Left to right, Megan Jones of the Healdsburg Wine Library, with Javier Guzman, a Healdsburg resident since 1949 and co-founder of KBBF, and San Leandro Public Librarian Patricia Mallari, at the local Posada event on Dec. 16, 2023.

By Jon Haupt

Years ago, I sat at the Library’s Reference Desk, ready to help with what questions might come my way. Mike stopped by to check in about a music question on his way to start his volunteer service hours. Meanwhile, Dave walked by, declaiming what he had eaten for lunch that day. “Fried. Pork. Taco.”

A third patron walked by and said something about a football game, and that started a new conversation about recent sporting events. That’s when one more person walked by, who didn’t make eye contact on the way to a study table, but muttered under their breath, “This isn’t even a library anymore. It’s more like Cheers.”

The comment came with a derisive tone, and I didn’t comment in the moment. But later, the staff discussed how the comment revealed a shift in the role of the library that appeared to match a need in our society—a place to meet up with fellow community members, separate from political constructs and, if anything, provide for the kind of impromptu social phenomenon referred to by the commenter.

Fast forward to December 2023, when we found 300 of our closest neighbors at the library for our Healdsburg Library Posada. Participants formed a procession from one area of the library to another, participating freely in Spanish-language music and movement for kids, as well as  in family photo areas, including a station for preserving and digitizing family photos, a holiday-themed photo booth and a craft station for decorating portrait frames.

In addition there was a tamale lunch for everyone, a music performance by Sabor de mi Cuba and, finally, a piñata on our patio, complete with peanuts, candy and a rousing community rendition of ¡Dale Dale Dale!

This Posada event was the first large party at our library branch since before the start of the pandemic and was deeply enjoyed by all. Several individuals noted they had never seen anything like it in a library and were touched by the crowd’s diversity and enthusiasm. We saw regular library users, new residents and longtime Healdsburg residents who had not visited in some time.

In the aftermath of the Posada, we heard from many community members who still dreamily reminisced about the event. One person’s comment stuck with us—he said the library is taking the place of the old Post Office. Librarians studying Information Behavior speak of a phenomenon called an “information ground” where people come together for a particular purpose, like finding a good book to read, but a social environment emerges that encourages visitors to share information freely and spontaneously.

Others speak of a “third place” separate from home or work, a place that becomes familiar, regular and beloved to those who participate. At the end of the day we are proud that although we still provide access to information, assistance and a good read, our library has also become a special place where the community gathers—both to comfort one another in difficult times and to share good cheer when things go well.

Jon Haupt is the branch manager of the Healdsburg Regional Library, located at 139 Piper St. and open daily.

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