Updated: Jan 11
Palos Verdes Library District Director Jennifer Addington counts on robust digital infrastructure to maintain free and enduring access to all library resources.
In an age of smartphones and tablet computers, reliable digital infrastructure has become as essential to community health and well-being as clean water, affordable electricity, and safe roads and bridges. And for growing numbers of people, the cheapest, most accessible portal to that vital infrastructure is their local public library.
That’s why Jennifer Addington, director of the Palos Verdes Library District (PVLD) and her staff did a massive pivot from the physical to the virtual in March 2020 when COVID-19 and local public health guidance shuttered the public library’s three branches in the South Bay of Los Angeles.
Maintaining a Lifeline
“During the pandemic we lost the physical, but not the virtual,” said Addington. “We were determined to maintain, even strengthen, the cornerstone of democracy that libraries provide: equal and unfettered access to information, to material, to spaces and to community connections.”
In a matter of weeks, Addington and her team had created children’s storytimes that aired on YouTube and Zoom, shifted their focus from physical books to e-books, and begun a series of Zoom tutorials on how to access PVLD’s digital collection, how to stream movies, and how to download e-books and audio books. They also instituted curbside book pick-up services.
“If we had lost that digital connection, it would have been devastating to our regular patrons and our social media community,” she said.
Serving the Public, Cradle to Grave
Today, as the administrative head of PVLD, Addington oversees the daily operations of the district’s three branches, including their finances, human resources, facilities, legal and information technology issues. But the impact of library services on PVLD patrons remains her top priority.
“Our only goal is to serve the public, not to make money,” she stressed. “A library is a place you can bring your children, literally from birth for the rest of their lives and give them free access to books, to knowledge, and to inspiration.”
For PVLD patrons, that means nearly unlimited access to books, magazines, movies, music, e-books, audiobooks, newspapers, computers, Wi-Fi, and local history, not to mention regular storytime for children, a public speaker series for adults, citizenship tests and passport services.
Born to Read
Addington’s passion for reading and hoovering up information began in the living room of her parents’ home, which happened to be anywhere her father, a U.S. Foreign Service diplomat, was based. By the time she graduated high school — in Liberia, West Africa — Addington had lived in Paris; Stockholm; Madras, India; Sitka, Alaska; and Carmichael, Calif., just outside Sacramento.
“Growing up overseas, we didn’t have much access to TV, so we read a lot,” she recalled.
“My mother was a huge reader and really enjoyed engaging with the written word.” In fact, her mom would excuse Addington and her older brother from doing household chores if they were reading.
Addington also experienced the joys of libraries during summer vacations to Harrison, Idaho, home of her paternal grandmother.
“My grandmother was not a degreed librarian, but she ran the little library in Harrison,” explained Addington. “Magically, she always seemed to have the keys to the library, so we’d go down there and just get books. I think it was this access and this encouragement that taught me ‘you can be a reader; you should be a reader.’”
Addington’s affection for libraries grew even more when her family moved to Monrovia, Liberia. She volunteered in the library in the U.S. embassy organizing and shelving books left behind by departing US diplomats. A highlight of this volunteer experience was a brief visit to the library by Vice President George H.W. and Barbara Bush, who praised her library service.
“I can recall just feeling good about working in the library,” said Addington. “It made me feel like I was doing something good for the community.”
Discovering Film Production
By the time her dad received his next assignment — to Lima, Peru — Addington was ready for college. She matriculated at Evergreen State College, a small, liberal arts school in Olympia, Wash., where she discovered script writing and a passion for communications, film and video production.
“I thought I was going to become the greatest female director or film maker,” she said. “I just loved being on movie sets, working in special projects, and playwriting.”
By the time she’d completed her work at Evergreen, her family had moved back to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where she set up a base of operations to work as a freelance film production assistant.
Over the next five or six years, film work took Addington to Mississippi, Florida, Oregon and ultimately Southern California. By age 28, however, she was growing weary of the transitory nature of film and production work, no matter how much perceived glamour of the work.
Rediscovering the Library
Ironically, library service would veer back into her life in spring 2000 when a friend notified her of a job posting for a technical services clerk at PVLD.
“I didn’t even know what that job meant,” Addington recalled, “but it got me thinking, based on all my previous library experiences, that it might be something worth doing.”
She was hired for the PVLD job in May 2000. So began a 21-year (and counting) journey through the world of library sciences and administration. That first job gave Addington the opportunity to engage with many aspects of PVLD, including supporting the children’s librarians and the adult librarians, mending books, booking meeting rooms, and creating promotional marketing materials.
“And I just loved it,” she claimed. So much so that she went back to school to earn an advanced degree within six months. Over the next two years, she drove out to Cal State Fullerton once a week to attend classes for a master’s degree in library and information science, a degree she earned from San Jose State University in May 2002.
Over the next decade, Addington’s career at PVLD would include stints as assistant head of circulation, young readers’ services librarian, reference librarian, assistant manager of adult services, and branch operations manager.
"Working in the library just made me feel good, like I was doing something good for the community."
-- Jennifer Addington, PVLD
The only interruption in that PVLD service came in 2013 when she felt she was ready for a library deputy directorship — but no such position existed at the district. As luck would have it, the Pasadena Public Library was looking for a deputy director, and she jumped at the chance. Three years later, Addington would return to PVLD — to fill the newly created position of deputy director. She assumed the role of PVLD director in July 2018.
Focusing on Infrastructure
Today, one of Addington’s top priorities is ensuring that PVLD’s digital infrastructure remains robust, reliable and accessible by all library patrons. The district’s three full-time information technology professionals ensure the currency, reliability and security of PVLD’s servers, domains, and back-up operations. Her two digital services librarians manage the PVLD website, work with online database and collection vendors, and manage the district’s Google-based work environment for employees.
One of the digital upgrades Addington is extremely proud of is PVLD’s decision in 2015 to join the California Research and Education Network (CalREN), a high-speed, high-bandwidth digital backbone that serves universities, libraries and research institutions throughout Southern California. CalREN is operated by CENIC, the nonprofit Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California.
“Joining CalREN gave us that seamless delivery of data we need to ensure the reliability and security of our network for our patrons and IT staff alike,” she said. “It also inspired us to upgrade the Wi-Fi services at all of our branches, a huge logistic challenge based on the age and historical status of those buildings.”
Creating the Third Place
And while not every patron takes full advantage of PVLD’s digital infrastructure — some library members would rather buy hardcover books at Costco and donate them back to the Peninsula Friends of the Library — Addington remains philosophical about the broader roles that libraries play in communities.
“Libraries are so much more than buildings that store collections of books, magazines and electronic media,” she observed. “They also provide that important third place, that cultural and community connection point for so many people.
“We’re the place where local groups come to play bridge every Tuesday. We’re the place where seniors come to read that unaffordable business newsletter every week; we’re the place where kids come every day after school to study; or the place where researchers and authors come to dig into the local history of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.”
In the end, Addington added, libraries are all about creating environments that are accessible and equitable for everyone.
“Even if people don’t need what you have on your shelves, they need you and they need what you represent, “she proposed. “They want to be engaged in their community and this is one way they can do it.”
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