Fearing that Ventura County's libraries could lose half their funding this year, the county's library director has proposed that 50 employees be laid off and that 15 branches drastically slash the hours they are open.
The proposed budget cuts, unveiled this week by Dixie Adeniran, director of the county's Library Services Agency, could take effect as early as July.
Library administrators said the proposed cutbacks are necessary because Gov. Pete Wilson wants the state to make up part of its $8.6-billion budget deficit by diverting local tax dollars that are the library's chief source of funding.
The cuts in staff and hours will lead to longer lines and fewer services at the 15 branches that serve about 402,000 Ventura County residents, library boosters say. The libraries in Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Santa Paula are funded locally, but all other communities rely on the county to operate the neighborhood library.
Some outlying libraries will lose more than half of their service hours under Adeniran's proposal.
The busy Ojai Library, for example, which is now open 51 hours a week, is slated to operate only 16 hours a week under the plan.
"It's ridiculous," said Edwin P. Scanlan, president of the Ojai Valley Friends of the Library. "It's going to make it very difficult for people. The library is going to be closed more than it's open."
Adeniran said her proposed cut in staff and operating hours would save $2.1 million--about 25% of the system's current budget. But she warned that in a worst-case scenario, the governor's plan could lead to a loss of half the libraries' funding.
Library users and employees said Friday they were dismayed by the proposed cuts, which would hit the poor and the elderly the hardest.
"For the people who make big dollars, they don't really care. They can go to a bookstore and buy a book," said Barry Hammitt, executive director of Service Employees International Union, Local 998, which represents most library employees. "But for students and low-income people and senior citizens, the public library system is the only access they have to printed materials."
Under Adeniran's plan, the Camarillo and Simi Valley libraries, now open 54 hours a week, would be cut to 28. The Foster and Wright libraries in Ventura would be cut 54 hours a week to 32 hours.
The libraries in Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai and Port Hueneme, now open 51 hours a week, would operate just 16 hours.
Smaller libraries in Ventura, El Rio, Meiners Oaks, Oak View, Oak Park, Piru and Saticoy would operate eight to 14 hours a week. Those libraries are usually staffed by one person.
"There's a possibility that we may have to close some of the smaller libraries if one of the staff members is sick, because there would be no one to take over," said Alan Langville, supervisor of the library branch staffs.
He said library employees learned of the proposed cuts on Thursday. "I don't think they expected it would be of this magnitude, even though we were warning them about it," Langville said.
"I'm going from a staff of 19 to eight," said Dale Redfield, supervising librarian at the Simi Valley Library. "There won't be any programming for children. We'll probably have to remove the children's reference desk."
Most of the county libraries' budget comes from property taxes and from a state fund created to help special districts that lost money after Proposition 13, the tax-cutting measure, was approved by voters in 1978.
To balance the 1992-93 budget, state lawmakers shifted some of those funds to education, forcing the Ventura County libraries to slash $1.2 million from the system's $10-million budget.
County officials have proposed more library cuts because the governor wants to divert more local tax dollars to balance the state's 1993-94 budget.
"That money is allocated by the state, and it has been cut by the state," said County Supervisor Maggie Kildee. "There is no other source for replacing that money. People suggest that we replace it out of the (county's) general fund. That general fund money has already been allocated."
Some library boosters have launched fund-raising drives to help their local branches buy books and provide services.
To streamline the process, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider authorizing the Library Services Agency to accept donations of up to $10,000 without getting written approval from top county administrators.
Ventura city officials on Monday will consider allocating $15,000 to help keep the Ventura Avenue branch library open. But Kildee cautioned that most cities are not in a position to bail out their local branch of the county library system.
"The governor's budget is also taking money away from cities," the supervisor said, "so it's not as though anyone is sitting on a pot of gold."
Louise Choate, president of Friends of the Camarillo Library, said not enough library users are raising money or pressing lawmakers to avert the budget cuts.
When the libraries' services are reduced later this year, "the people who have done the least are going to complain the most," Choate predicted. "I'm going to be disgusted with each and every one of them."