Just Who Is Matt Beatty, OB’s Librarian?

by on May 7, 2018 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Brett Warnke

When librarian Matt Beatty talks about his paddle-skating, he doesn’t smile–not in that broad proud way of the athlete, but in a tiny mischievous lift of his mustache.

“It’s an old person’s extreme sport,” he said.

His wit is dry but he gets wet every morning swimming in the chilly waters bubbling under the OB Pier and makes his way to the place where we have all seen him, the OB Library, the human face of our odd little corner of San Diego.  Matt is a kind of sociologist of readers, a gazer at the needs of our community so he can supply the public programming and offer the required space. America’s libraries have always been an engine of creativity; it’s our place to read, create, meet, apply for jobs, and even print that necessary document on your way hither and thither.

Matt moved here September 11, 2001 when OBceans were protesting Starbucks so fervently that they were unaware the WTC had fallen.  A dark opening to a sunny career.

I laughed often talking to Matt even though he rarely cracked a smile.  Raised near Ripon, Wisconsin–the founding place of the anti-slavery Republican Party in 1854–Matt wanted to escape from a town so boring that even the boring towns beside it seemed to sneer at it.

He attended the University of Chicago and characterized himself as a mediocre student and later found himself in Philadelphia’s blighted Lancaster Avenue in a library without a community. He said:

“All the industry was gone and there was nothing left.  Even fast food places were a kind of luxury. Grocery stores?  Forget about it. None would never go there … at the library there was mostly questions about cars.”

Matt thinks the strength of those early years in West Philly came from that firm, expressionless quality he wears as a kind of public mask.

“I don’t get afraid very easily.  I don’t back down–I must appear unafraid, too,” he said.  “People don’t try to mess with me … well, I should say, people don’t try to mess with me twice.”

San Diego’s tolerance and ease were an antidote to his hometown’s tedium and Philadelphia’s social malaise.

“I hadn’t realized that unlike Philadelphia, California was a club anyone could join,” he said.

With his dog Spot, Matt has created a home in OB.  Having left for a stint as a librarian in North Park, juggling the needs of that neighborhood’s rapid changes prepared him for the changes and challenges affecting Ocean Beach whose library is simply outdated for the needs of the community. He told me:

“At one point recently, during a bit of rain recently, we had patrons, a tutoring session, people looking for jobs, and a public program.  The library simply could not be the place we needed it to be–we didn’t have the space or infrastructure to offer the services that the community needed.”.

The library site was surveyed last week.

Matt Beatty with skateboard. Photos by Brett Warnke

Matt knows OB’s readership, too.  He knows the differences, slight and drastic, between those on the breezy hill and those down at the bottom.  The trendy, best-selling NPR books will be checked out at the Point Loma library while more topical works, local interests, and classics connected to required classes will be checked out in OB’s branch.

“Don’t get the wrong idea.  A lot of people just come in to roll cigarettes, too,” he said.  Again, he doesn’t laugh, only offering the glimmer of a smile.

“There’s always questions from the community.  Good ones, too,” he said, pausing.

“What’s the most frequent question?” I asked.

“Where’s the post office?”

(It’s next door.)

Recently, a man came up and demanded a book on Phil Lesh.  Matt looked a bit curiously at the man, who was exasperated and scoffed.  Matt just shrugged. He said:

“Being in OB, I’m supposed to know the name of the Grateful Dead band members by name, apparently.”

Matt is engaged outside of work.  He’s a frequent flyer of local OB meetings and walking with him, even for a few blocks, I soon began to think he knew everyone on every street. When we walked passed the empty building that will soon house Target Matt commented on the area’s changes and the local anger at another corporate giant muscling itself into OB.

“I just hope we’re welcoming to the workers who enter the community.  I hope that there’s no bad blood with the people who have to work at Target for a living.  I know there was controversy about it. But those workers will be part of the community, too,” he said earnestly.

Matt seems to notice everything about our community–the parking, the good and bad coffee, the rush times, and the mild and drastic changes OB has undergone.  He notices that people under 35 prefer to read books while older people, new to technology, have begun reading more electronically. He even notices homeless people who “pass” because they do not look stereo-typically poor.  He notices the changing demographics–how families are moving in and staying and how black-clad transients, bumming it with their credit cards, wandering around the city in the 2000s, have nearly disappeared.

A librarian is an eye into a community’s soul, like Shaw’s quote about lighthouses, their sole purpose is to serve.

It wasn’t so long ago that he wouldn’t even notice a shoeless, sandy-footed patron walking into OB’s New Arrivals section.  But even that has changed, somewhat.

“The other day I got a call from the Point Loma library.  ‘What do you do when someone complains that another patron is wearing a bikini?’  I wasn’t sure what to say.”

“You’ve never had someone wear a bikini in the library?” I asked.

“Of course we have.  But we’ve never had a complaint.”

His mustache twitched, very slightly, like something approaching a smile.

 

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 7, 2018 at 10:27 am

Thanks Brett, I got several belly laughs from this. And thank you, Matt.

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molly Molly May 7, 2018 at 8:06 pm

Matt Beatty – a true OBcean.

This paragraph is intense: “Matt seems to notice everything about our community–the parking, the good and bad coffee, the rush times, and the mild and drastic changes OB has undergone. He notices that people under 35 prefer to read books while older people, new to technology, have begun reading more electronically. He even notices homeless people who “pass” because they do not look stereo-typically poor. He notices the changing demographics–how families are moving in and staying and how black-clad transients, bumming it with their credit cards, wandering around the city in the 2000s, have nearly disappeared.”

Reply

Debbie May 8, 2018 at 12:23 am

Super nice and helpful at the Library!

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Matt Beatty May 9, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Thanks Brett for the wonderful profile! And thanks to Frank and the OB Rag for publishing it. One minor observation- while people who live near the beach often read the kind of books professors might assign (think Dostoevsky), they actually read them for fun!

Reply

Rhonda Hart May 9, 2018 at 7:29 pm

Great article, well written, wonderful description of Matt-a really nice man

Reply

Doug Blackwood May 9, 2018 at 8:28 pm

The library is our best resource, and we couldn’t have a better steward for that treasure than Matt: thanks Matt!

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