Every year at the end of January, California legislators get together with librarians from their respective districts to learn about the current state of libraries, be they public, special, or school. And every year librarians meet with their legislators to protect library interests. Mainly, to make sure that no state funding or grant programs for libraries are reduced or cut, and to allow children like 5-year-old Joshua Morrison to learn the ways of the world through books.
Joshua and his sister Pearl use the Atascadero library for reading and for their education. Both are home-schooled, so the library is a vital tool used in their learning process.
Newcomer State Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee will himself be educated on normal library scenarios such as the Morrisonsâ€™, but now with what many are calling a library crisis added to the equation, state funding for these hallowed halls will be more important than ever.
The failure of Measure L to pass has seen to that. The measure would have provided funding for local libraries through a one-quarter-cent tax to the countyâ€™s sales tax for five years. It failed when 52 percent of the those voting on Nov. 2 opposed it. Libraries in San Luis Obispo have already cut back their hours, leaving them closed on Mondays as well as Sundays.
Libraries in Paso Robles werenâ€™t affected.
â€œOur library is supported primarily by the cityâ€™s private fund,â€? said Ann Robb, Pasoâ€™s city librarian. â€œPrivate supporting organizations like Friends of the Library and the Paso Robles Library Foundation provide immeasurable financial support to the library as well.â€?
In Salinas, itâ€™s a different story.
â€œPeople tend to think thereâ€™s enough money in government, and when we say we need more, weâ€™re crying wolf,â€? said Salinasâ€™ assistant city manager, Jorge Rifa. â€œDemographically, Salinas is a blue-collar community, with the staple of our economy coming from agriculture and tourism. The average yearly wage of each citizen is $14,495 â€” well below the national average,â€? he added. â€œThere wouldnâ€™t a need for new taxes if Sacramento would keep its hands out of our pockets.â€?
County residents are already protesting the planned closure of the cityâ€™s library branches in June, throwing dollar bills at the feet of the mayor as a strong gesture to keep library services going.
Librarians meeting with Blakeslee may not be able to offer money, but they are expected to demand that the state continue the funding programs already in place.
Of the 230,000 residents in SLO County, more than half use the library on a regular basis.
â€œCounty-wide, about 55 percent of residents are library-card holders. Seventy percent of those use the library at least once a week. There are about a million visits a year to our local libraries,â€? said Reynolds.
He and Robb agree that librariesâ€™ most vital role may be that of a facilitator within the community.
â€œThe librariesâ€™ primary role is to help people get the information they need in life to make decisions,â€? said Robb. â€œWhen people have free access to that info, then you truly have a democratic society.â€?
Reynolds feels strongly that people shouldnâ€™t take the libraries for granted.
â€œLibraries are the informal peopleâ€™s university,â€? he said.
It wonâ€™t be the first nor the last time Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee hears that message.
Managing Editor King Harris can be reached at email@example.com. Intern Brenda Wiley contributed to this article.