OAKLAND -- The director of the Oakland Public Library is beginning a new chapter in her life.
Carmen Martinez, 62, who has led the library through ups and downs for the past dozen years, is set to retire Saturday.
"It was a benchmark that I wanted to retire when I was 62," Martinez said. "You still have the energy and curiosity to keep active and intellectually stimulated. There's a lot to look forward to without the structure of work."
Martinez' contributions to what she calls a "noble cause" were recognized in a formal proclamation from Mayor Jean Quan and Oakland City Council at the Dec. 4 council meeting.
"(The City) commends Carmen Martinez for 12 years of outstanding service and congratulates her on the occasion of her retirement," reads the resolution.
Martinez, a native of Los Angeles who grew up in Glendale, received her bachelor's in arts degree from then-CSU Hayward in Spanish language and literature; a certificate in proficiency in language from the University of Barcelona; and a master's degree in library science from CSU Fullerton.
Martinez was recruited to Oakland in 2000 from the Los Angeles Central Library, where she worked for eight years. The same year, Gerry Garzon, who is taking over from Martinez as interim library director, joined the Oakland Public Library as associate director. He had previously held that position with the Arapahoe Library District in Colorado.
"We both came from library systems with a lot of money," Martinez said. "So it was a big adjustment for both of us when we came to Oakland."
She said that before she began her job, there hadn't been a director for three years.
"There was money here, but it was not being utilized," said Martinez, who lives in Montclair with her partner of 20 years, Anthony Bernier.
"Anthony and I met at the library in Los Angeles," Martinez said. "And, he's a professor in the library school at San Jose State University. Libraries are a wonderful place to meet people."
In 2004, Martinez spearheaded the campaign that resulted in the passage of the Measure Q parcel tax, which generates about $14 million annually for the libraries.
"The flow of that money depends on the city budgeting at least $9.1 million every year from the general fund," Martinez said.
In 2011, Martinez won another budget battle. With strong support from the community and the Save Our Libraries movement, the Oakland City Council nixed its proposal to close 14 branch libraries to help balance the budget.
"It was quite a time," Martinez recalled. "We told ourselves, 'Let's not get angry; let's get organized.'"
On Dec. 1, Martinez performed one of her final public duties as library director -- the grand reopening of the Piedmont Avenue Branch library. The quaint old building on 41st Street that housed the library for many years had been sold, and the new owners had hiked the rent from $1 a year to $4,500 per month.
"We had to look around for a new space, but the Piedmont Avenue area is already pretty built out," Martinez said.
As they had done previously with the new library branch that opened at 81st Avenue in 2010, the library partnered with the Oakland Unified School District to place the library on school grounds.
"The OUSC agreed to let us put a temporary modular on the site of Piedmont Avenue Elementary School," Martinez said. "We already knew that a library on a school site was a hit."
Martinez is also proud of her achievement with opening of the African American Museum and Library in the historic 1902 Carnegie building on 14th Street.
"There's a huge treasure of archival material that will now be professionally preserved," said Martinez, who just hired an archivist to "take control of the vast amount of information on African Americans."
Martinez also spearheaded the opening of the 15,000-square-foot Cesar Chavez branch in the Fruitvale neighborhood.
"This was once a tiny operation in the lobby of the Spanish Unity Council building," Martinez said. "Now it houses the largest Spanish language collection in Northern California, a free community meeting room that is always in use, and the first TeenZone designed with input from teens in the community."
The TeenZones, which Martinez says are unique to the Oakland Public Library, are now in six branches, including the Main Library on 14th Street and the Rockridge Branch on College Avenue.
Despite iPads and Kindles, Martinez -- who takes a book to bed every night and even reads in the bath -- said the library is busier than it's ever been.
"People want books, space to work quietly and use of a computer if they can't afford to buy one," said Martinez, adding that a $35,000 donation from the Friends of Oakland Public Library also enabled the library to greatly beef up its e-book collection.
As she reflects on her 12 years of service, Martinez said she enjoyed coming to work every day and said there was always a challenge or a project before her.
"In Oakland, the social perspective is very important," she said. "So many people need our help."