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The library is a place for learning and celebrating culture as a community

Visitors walk toward the library during last year’s Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Visitors walk toward the library during last year’s Swallows Day Parade. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By San Juan Capistrano Library Staff and the Friends of the Library

Most adults can still remember going to the library as kids—checking out a favorite book or combing through reference materials to finish homework assignments. Visits were common occurrences and had an established place in our lives.

However, in today’s world of electronic gadgets and instant gratification, libraries are often undervalued and considered to be musty places where people used to go, and that’s a shame because they are so much more than repositories for books.

San Juan Capistrano is especially blessed with a library that is truly unique. Built by renowned architect Michael Graves, it is one of the city’s “Sites of Distinction.” Facing our beloved Mission, the library sits nestled between the grand Basilica to the south and the historic Mission Hill-Mission Flats neighborhood to the east.

On the exterior, the design reflects the Spanish colonial style with a modern twist. Graves’ interpretation of the traditional style gave rise to some controversy at the time his design was chosen. However, after more than 30 years, residents have embraced the building, and it has successfully woven itself into the fabric of the town.

The interior of the building is not what we would consider “open concept,” but rather consists of an assembly of rooms that welcome visitors to relax and stay awhile. The long, narrow gallery running along the right side of the structure is a soaring space that elicits oohs and ahs. The reading room at the far end invites guests to cozy up to the fireplace. Moving from room to room, one can sense the care Graves took in creating spaces that nurture the human spirit.

Michael Graves imagined a place of community that encouraged learning and knowledge. San Juan Capistrano’s library lives up to that vision, offering a variety of resources and services as well as an ongoing calendar of programs for the whole family. In other words, people come to the library not only to find books.

Families participate in a tortilla art activity at the San Juan Capistrano library. Photo: Courtesy of Ericka Reeb
Families participate in a tortilla art activity at the San Juan Capistrano library. Photo: Courtesy of Ericka Reeb

The library has a number of computers to facilitate studying and browse electronic resources. This is an invaluable service for patrons who may not otherwise have access to a computer or the internet. And for those who have their own laptop or other electronic device, free Wi-Fi is also available, as are lots of comfortable places to sit.

For children, there are a variety of story time options (including bilingual), a summer reading program, monthly family film screenings and even opportunities to read to a dog. Other programs include book clubs, monthly Friday night films, an archaeological lecture series, a revolving art exhibit, and so much more.

The San Juan Capistrano library is a great place to enjoy a wide range of experiences, and it’s not just for locals. Fans of architecture, as well as out-of-towners looking for something off the beaten path, also visit this special place. Thousands of people from across the globe have visited our little library, and if you haven’t been there in a while, please plan a visit. And schedule a good amount to time… you may not want to leave.

The “Branching Out” column is a collaboration between San Juan Capistrano library staff and the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit that supports the library and its programs by raising funds through its on-site bookstore and special events. For more information on the library, visit or follow @SJCFriends on Facebook.

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