Kristin Anderson leaves strong foundation for
By Lou Fancher
When Kristin Anderson stepped into her position as the Walnut Creek Library Foundation's executive director in 2006, the downtown library was housed in a 45-year-old, 9,234-square-foot building.
Eight years later, with a new marriage and a daughter in her first year of college in the Midwest sweeping her to Chicago, Anderson will leave behind a 42,000-square-foot, two-story, $40 million library completed in 2010. The foundation raised approximately $5.5 million in private donations for the construction, and for $180,000 in improvements to the city's Ygnacio Valley Library branch.
"I don't want this article to be about me," Anderson said. "I've loved collaborating with the elected people in the city, the volunteers at nonprofits, the staff at other library foundations, the community."
Anderson, an Illinois native, jumped from the East Coast -- Cape Cod -- to San Diego before landing in the Bay Area in 1987. With an undergraduate degree in communications from San Francisco State University and a master's in early childhood education from Saint Mary's College, Anderson mixed being a mostly-single mom/student with work as a Montessori teacher and as the director of the program for 3-year-olds at Mulberry Tree Preschool in Moraga before joining the library.
Perhaps raising a child who played water polo -- lots of scurrying to practices -- while working or going to school was good preparation for the complexities of running a library foundation. The foundation provides 60 percent of the library's periodicals, supports summer reading and other programs, and recently reupholstered worn furniture in the children's area.
Asked to select her favorites from a list of job duties that includes fundraising, programming, budget reports, events management, hiring and supervising staff, collaborating with volunteers and overseeing marketing for the foundation, Anderson picks learning -- her own.
"I've learned so much that I wouldn't have been exposed to. (Biographer) T. J. Stiles' keynote at this year's gala, Robert Hearst's program for us about the Mark Twain biography ... the way all the different books come together through the people has been fascinating."
Shepherding the new library into existence surpassed fascinating to become "a real challenge" when the project, 12 years in the planing, met with a down economy.
"The recession changed everything," Anderson recalled. "Walnut Creek is a well-run city. Yes, there's a deficit, but there are no bonds or loans. How many cities don't have debt tied to bonds? The community really stepped up."
Ongoing deficits have caused the city to cut library funding, but Anderson said the recession meant the new library's building materials came in under budget and the workers were better qualified. Public criticism -- that a city with a deficit should not have built a new library -- boggle her mind.
"I know everyone has their own way of looking at the world, but I don't understand why people don't understand libraries are essential. I see wonderful things happening here every single day," Anderson said. "You have to keep apologizing for something, but you're thinking, 'Why don't they get it?'"
For the first time in years, Anderson said the city is beginning to have an honest conversation about longterm funding for library hours, an item outside of the foundation's responsibilities. The city council asked that a library work group consisting of stakeholders and staff prepare a report with recommendations for sustaining the library into the future.
Susan Moon, administration director and Anderson's successor as the foundation's board members reformat the position, is part of that work group. She said the report will offer help, but also ask the city to step up.
"We hope there'll be movement on the city council," Moon said. "We want them to know about the number of people that use our library. From babies to retirees, they're walking through the door every day -- that is an answer in itself as to our value."
Reflecting on highlights, Anderson said being the first East Bay library to open the "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War" exhibit in 2012 was "awesome" and every annual Author's Gala is proof a library can "throw a good party where there's no auction paddle to raise and only intimacy and a fun connection with authors."
She believes libraries haven't been mainly about books for years, and in the future there will be fewer PC's and more iPads, study rooms, programs, comfortable spaces for connecting -- and continuous evolution.
Moon anticipates more cross-cultural programming, like the recent "Muslim Journeys" program that brought together experts in music, art, poetry, history and literature to explore universal connections across diverse communities. The 2015 One Book One City selection, "Yes, Chef," a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson, will bring food into the cultural equation. Moon said a panel of expert chefs and a read-it-and-pass-it-along policy will engage the community and show it's "never the same old, same old, at the library."