Opinion » Commentaries

Improving our libraries is imperative

Volunteers are a vital resource but more money is needed



Recently I’ve read a few e-mails and now an opinion piece by Doug Bates (“We need library professionals now more than ever,” Nov. 19) regarding libraries. Since Mr. Bates has decided to contribute an opinion piece based on little, if any, factual information regarding my position, I feel compelled to respond.

 He asserts that “volunteers will be used as a substitute” and that I have “pressed to replace a key technical service and support position with a county-wide volunteer coordinator.” I’m not certain where Mr. Bates got his misinformation but I’d like to set the record straight. He could have heard directly from me if he bothered to call but since he didn’t perhaps he’ll read my response.

 Neither of these assertions is true. As a matter of fact, I met recently with Brian Reynolds, the director of the County Libraries; Mr. Jim Grant, the county administrator; and approximately 20 of Mr. Reynolds’ staff. The purpose was to pose an idea and to clarify to them that my desire was to hopefully not see further reductions in staff, but instead to find a way to augment and assist with the workload that staff is currently experiencing.

 Bates is correct that libraries are seeing an increase in service demand. And even he references the number of other cities that are either closing or reducing their library availability. My desire is to find a means to prevent that. We won’t be hiring additional staff anytime soon. The budget isn’t going to magically grow. So, the question becomes: How will we provide the demand for service with less staff and less money?

 Yes, I was “the Mayor of Paso Robles for eight years.” And yes, “the City library was built on a model of volunteerism.” Ask anyone affiliated with the library and you’ll find that I not only strongly supported the library but was one who pushed strongly for expanded library hours. This all comes with a cost and it could not have been done without the support of volunteers.

 Volunteers are simply that: They volunteer. I have folks ask me all the time: How can I give back? Is there any place where I could volunteer for a few hours to help out? A lot of these folks are retired professionals who not only have the time, but extraordinary talents as well. I think it would be a shame to not utilize this incredible resource.

 When I took the oath of office early this year we, the Board of Supervisors, were informed that we must find a way, over the next four to five years, to reduce the number of county government employees by somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 to 500 people. We were not told which departments would be affected. We were told that “every department would feel the pain.”

 Government must find ways to do business differently and more effectively or we will simply get the same results. My job is to work with four other colleagues to find the means to balance a budget and work to ensure our county does not end up in the same situation as the state.

Mr. Bates states, “Libraries are easy targets for shortsighted politicians looking to scrimp, who see libraries as an extravagance used only by elitists.”

 Trying to find better ways to do business is short sighted? I think libraries are a convenient necessity, not an extravagance.
If you call children, immigrants trying to learn a second language, grandparents reading to their grandkids, and the opportunity to learn and experience all that a library has to offer, “elitists” ... look up the word in the dictionary, Mr. Bates: I hardly think libraries are used by the elite.

   It simply comes down to this: Show me the money. If we have folks willing to volunteer their time and talent, at no cost to taxpayers, to provide assistance to employed staff and help with the increased demand on services, then why not expand and improve the volunteer program? If you have a better idea, Mr. Bates, I’d love to hear it. But once again, show me the money.


 Frank R. Mecham is the First District Supervisor of San Luis Obispo County. Send comments to the editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

Add a comment