PLEASANT HILL -- To many people in Contra Costa County, the local library is like a home away from home.
Eighteen pairs of friends and colleagues who treasure their local libraries talked about the importance of these community hubs last week for the national StoryCorps program, which will archive those interviews in the Library of Congress. The county library system is one of several throughout the country to be included in the StoryCorps project, tapped because it won a 2012 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
"The pairs come from all over the county and represent library patrons in different life stages and with different backgrounds," said Laura Seaholm, the libraries' adult literacy program manager. "The common thread is that each pair believes in the power of libraries and knows that they can -- and do -- make a positive difference in our community."
Participants included teens, retirees, veterans, volunteers, adults learning to read, people influential in building new libraries, a mother and son, librarians and foundation members.
Jason Deitch, a 42-year-old member of a Concord veterans group, talked to librarian Chris Brown about veterans programs they teamed up on, paid for with a library grant.
Deitch said libraries are an excellent vehicle for reaching veterans in nonmilitary settings all over America.
"I felt like I had stumbled onto some secret back door to civic government," Deitch said. "We had a 'Welcome Home' event at the Orinda library. It was an amazing, peaceful place."
Gary Pokorny, who lives in El Cerrito and was city manager of Walnut Creek when its library was built, talked with Tom Panas about their effort to raise money and support for a new El Cerrito library building. They also recalled the importance of libraries to them as children.
Pokorny, 71, who grew up on a farm outside of Schuyler, Neb., said his family visited the library every week.
"Ms. Grogan, the librarian, was very kind, as most librarians are," Pokorny recalled. "We kind of grew up with her almost as another member of the family."
Panas, 62, said libraries have the answers to all his questions. "The library's always like my second home," he said, "regardless of where I've lived."
Katherine Bracken, a library commissioner and founding member of the Pleasant Hill Library Fund, talked to Veronica Dangerfield, also a member of the fundraising group for StoryCorps. Like Pokorny and Panas, both women are working to raise money for a new Pleasant Hill library building.
Bracken, 43, said libraries are warm, welcoming places.
"People are friendly," Bracken said. "There's a feeling of gathering."
Dangerfield, 52, said that as a young African-American girl who lived in Japan the first 10 years of her life, she took refuge in her local Texas library when her mother was ill and her father was serving in Vietnam.
"I was bullied so bad that the library was the only safe haven for me," she recalled. "As I was going through all these cultural changes, the library was the only parent I had. I felt safe there. Librarians are the best people in the world. I tell my children, 'Librarians are our heroes.' "
Natalie Hill, the 16-year-old president of the Pleasant Hill Library's Teen Advisory Group, chatted with Dean Shim, a former member of the teen group who is now in college. The pair were working with other teens this week to present a communitywide multi-ethnic "World Party" on Saturday.
"When I'm working in the teen advisory group, I just feel like I'm in my element," said Natalie, who is considering becoming a librarian. "It's like, this is what I want to do with my life -- educate children and make them feel like they can learn freely."
Details about StoryCorps are available by calling 800-850-4406 or by going to http://storycorps.org.
To see videos of Pleasant Hill teen Natalie Hill talking about why the library is important to her, along with a sampling of other Contra Costa County library StoryCorps discussions, go to www.ContraCostaTimes.com.
The Pleasant Hill Library Teen Advisory Group invites the community to a World Party -- a multi-ethnic extravaganza -- from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Pleasant Hill Library, 1750 Oak Park Blvd. in Pleasant Hill.
The community is also invited to the library system's 100th birthday celebration from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Pleasant Hill Park and Teen Center, 147 Gregory Lane in Pleasant Hill.
Additional information about the Contra Costa County library, including an online survey that can be completed through July 31, can be found at www.ccclib.org.