Building the library of the future in Alpine County |

Building the library of the future in Alpine County

by Virginia York
R-C Alpine Bureau
A piece of custom furniture designed for the Alpine County Library.
Don Hittenmiller |


The grand opening of the Alpine digital bridge is 1-3 p.m. Nov. 16. There will be live music and refreshments by the Friends of the Library.

Last March, Don Hittenmiller, local woodworker and veterinary surgeon, overheard a conversation in the library between librarian, Rita Lovell, and a library patron. While immersed in writing a grant for a new computer center, Rita was bewailing the dearth of inspirational furniture. She was searching for an alternative to the standard particle board cubicle.

Don spoke up.

“I can make something,” he said.

This was the beginning of something beautiful. Every year the California State Library invites librarians to “Pitch an Idea” with a view to receiving a grant to implement it. At the end of 2012, Rita pitched her idea: “The Alpine Digital Bridge.”

She requested $17,100, for six new computers and installation, integrative software and new furniture. Her plan for Alpine was to “position the Library as a community facility that provides computer education for residents on a consistent and ongoing basis.”

In 2011, using the Eureka! Grant (also provided by the State Library) she created computer classes for adults which were immensely popular. The classes were held at Diamond Valley Elementary School’s computer lab. The disadvantage of using the school facility was that the classes had to be planned around the school schedule which did not suit all students. In her proposal for the “Pitch an Idea” grant, Rita wrote: “A crucial component of the Alpine Digital Bridge project is to provide computer instruction within the library that meets the needs of residents and staff… Even though this would be a “mini version” of the computer lab. with fewer computers, I feel we can reach more people with more flexible scheduling…”

Rita was awarded the grant with an additional $1,400 to buy instructional materials to enhance the computer technology section of the library. After Don’s generous offer to create furniture for the computer center, he and Rita worked together on design. Don waxes lyrical on the virtues of juniper, the knots, the grains, the colors: reds, blacks, purples, blonds. Juniper is a hard wood. Like redwood and cedar it is fire and bug resistant. When the bark is chiseled off a beautiful live edge is exposed. The edges of the table top are live edges. Letting Mother Nature guide him, he works around curvatures and knots. Don observes that even when juniper is planed it gives the impression of being three dimensional. He uses diseased, local trees to save the transportation costs, a sound environmental practice.

In creating the library furniture Don’s intention was to make it inspirational. Surrounded by natural beauty, the computer user is more likely to aspire to higher levels in his/her search for knowledge than he/she would if locked into the sterile environment of a standard cubicle

Because Don made the table in two halves, to be separated to provide space for library programs, the table has eight legs; each pair joins together looking like one leg, an advantage of the live edge. Hidden casters provide mobility. The table’s central panel is stained glass which appears to be three dimensional. This was created by local artist Richard Shokouh who displays art in the Art and Soul Gallery in Markleeville. The panel affords privacy but lets in the light. The side panels of the stations are archways, cunningly designed to offer views of the central panel and give more light but to block the next person’s computer screen; the stained glass panel gives the impression that there are no walls.

Sit on one of the new chairs and you will not want to budge. The chairs are designed for gluteal and lumbar support; without effort one maintains the perfect posture desirable for study. The seats are covered in buffalo hide which has an old look and a soft feel and is as hard-wearing as cow hide. Don’s furniture is built to last. He used to repair antique furniture and developed a method of joinery far stronger than the traditional.

We are privileged indeed to have in our small community a librarian passionate about computer technology education and a wood artisan of extraordinary talent.

Currently classes are on a drop-in basis; staff addresses the individual needs of each student. Sign up in the library for upcoming computer classes beginning in January. Classes will accommodate six students and last approximately eight weeks. For more information contact the library at (530) 694-2120.

Custom woodwork: Don Hittenmiller, (530) 694-2359, Custom stained glass: Richard Shokouh, (818) 482-7846,


Nov. 16, 1-3 p.m. Live music. Refreshments by the Friends of the Library.