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Kaya Chaa, 8, (left) and Collin Jones, 7, match wits as they play a game of chess during the Santa Monica Ocean Park Library Chess Club on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

OCEAN PARK LIBRARY — Library administration replaced the former leader of the Ocean Park Library’s chess program several weeks ago, much to the chagrin of parents, children and other participants.

Mel Bloch, who many credit with building the program, was let go in what City Librarian Greg Mullen described as a personnel matter.

Mullen could not discuss the reasons behind Bloch’s removal from the part-time library page position, but confirmed that the chess program would continue under the direction of Youth Services Librarian Myleen de Jesus.

“I’m thrilled there’s a program people like and are enjoying that’s a service to the community and is continuing,” Mullen said. “Change is tough for some people. It takes a little time.”

Shortly after Bloch’s firing, supporters of his program began writing letters of support to the library and local newspapers, protesting what they saw as the death of their beloved program.

“It’s a shame,” said Paul Scott. Scott used to volunteer for the Bloch-led chess programs, which were held Wednesday afternoons at the Ocean Park Library and at Farmers’ Markets. “It’s a shadow of its former self.”

A mix of ages and skill levels, and Bloch’s talent at balancing the group, made the program an ideal place for families to come and learn chess, Scott said.

Scott has not attended a session since Bloch left.

One parent, David Lappen, felt that his 16-year-old son Joshua had gotten a lot out of both the program, and the association with Bloch.

“He’s got a very strong background in chess, and dealing with people,” Lappen said. “He’s a bright, engaging, charismatic person. He was able to keep the chess going with multiple people, and he was a great mentor.”

Joshua Lappen has not returned to volunteer for the program under de Jesus.

Although no explanation has been given for Bloch’s dismissal, some, including Bloch himself, point to a contentious relationship between Bloch and library management.

“The management model seeks conformity, punishes individual initiative and absolutely seemingly cannot tolerate outside the box intellects or processes,” Bloch wrote in an e-mail.

Scott, who worked with Bloch, suspected there might be bad blood between Bloch and management, and described the former library employee as outspoken.

“I would say Mel is confrontational, sure,” Scott said. “People who change things in the world have to be confrontational.”

Retired Ocean Park Branch Librarian Celia Carroll spoke highly of the program, saying that Bloch made “tremendous contributions over several years by connecting hundreds of children to an area in which they can excel and learn important reasoning skills.”

“I understand that there are ongoing issues between Mr. Bloch and library management,” Carroll said. “As a former public employee, I believe we have an obligation to work with all of the community’s stake-holders, even those who make us uncomfortable.”

Mullen disagreed with the suggestion that administration had a bad relationship with Bloch.

This is not the first time that changes in the chess program raised a furor within the community that supports it.

The Fairview Branch Library used to host the program, but was moved to the Ocean Park branch, because the budget at that branch for staff time had been reduced.

The one major cost of the chess program comes from the staff time that makes it run, Mullen wrote in an e-mail.

At its new home at the Ocean Park Branch, Bloch did request an additional hour for set up, Mullen said. That request was denied.

“We thought it was inappropriate and unnecessary,” Mullen said. “Other staff does that set up.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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