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GUEST OPINION: In defense of the county library system

  • 9/5/2006: B1: Sixth-grader Cayla Chandara, 11, looks for a research book at the library. Lehman Elementary has improved its English test scores, in part because the district provided new curriculum for struggling readers and trained teachers how to use it.

    PC: lead/1 of 3__ Helen Lehman elementary school 6th grader Cayla Chandara, 11, looks for a research book for a history report while on a walking field trip to the Coddingtown branch of the Sonoma County Library on Thursday, August 31, 2006. The Press Democrat/John Burgess

This is in response to "Locals deserve better from county library" (Close to Home, May 12). The Sonoma County library system is one of the great advantages, in addition to near perfect climate, incredible natural beauty and outstanding wines, of this county.

The library system covers the entire county — towns large and small — with support of its branch libraries. The buildings are a city responsibility, and the library operation is county, hence a joint power. This means library patrons in a small town such as Cloverdale, where I live, have access to the library collections of all the branches. We can request items through the on-line catalog, and they are delivered to our branch for pick-up.

Unless you have lived in a county without a joint powers agreement, you may not appreciate the huge advantage that this gives library patrons in Sonoma County.

I moved to Cloverdale from Monterey County in 1998. When we were considering the move and checking out the town, we went into the Cloverdale Regional Branch Library. We were very impressed with the library, its collection and staff, which convinced us that Cloverdale was a town that had a lot to offer. (It was only later that we learned of the joint powers governance.)

In Monterey County, most of the larger cities have city-operated libraries. The city of Salinas' Steinbeck Library — named for one of its most famous native sons — had to close because the voters did not pass a small tax. After this went viral nationally, the city, which was deeply embarrassed, finally did pass a tax, which allowed the Steinbeck Library to reopen.

I grew up in Pacific Grove, a small town on the Monterey Peninsula, which has its own city library — a lovely WPA-built building with amazing murals in it. It used to be open seven days a week, nine hours a day. It is now open 16 hours a week. The librarian in Pacific Grove said it would cost more than $1 million to join the Monterey County system, which serves mainly newer and smaller cities in the county and, of course, the city of Pacific Grove does not have the money for that.

We have had to accept some budget cuts in the operation of the Sonoma County Library system. The Monday closing was widely discussed at Library Advisory Board meetings. While no one was in favor of this, it seems to be a solution to the reality of budget cuts and service cuts we see in all parts of our lives, from roads, to schools, to shrinking police and fire services, to parks and our libraries.

None of this is what we want, but until public financing formulas change, we are going to continue to see cuts. Closing the libraries between Christmas and New Year's Eve was instituted several years ago when budget cutting became a reality.

Library statistics show that the holidays are a time of low circulation and use, so this was deemed an appropriate time for a closure. If and when the county financial picture improves, the additional time will be restored.

There are people in the county who have been vocal and critical of decisions made by the Library Commission — a group of people appointed by the Board of Supervisors who volunteer a great deal of time to overseeing the Sonoma County library system. Instead of merely criticizing, it would be helpful to hear of some viable alternatives to dealing with the reality of the current budget and finances.

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