Ventura County library officials are lobbying public schools, community colleges and cities for financial assistance to cover devastating budget cuts--a tactic that some officials say is likely to fail.
Library Services Agency Director Dixie D. Adeniran said an infusion of money is the fastest way to restore operating hours and staff shortages at the county's 15 lending libraries.
She will make that clear in meetings with representatives from schools and cities over the next two months, Adeniran said. The meetings have been scheduled as part of a countywide, cooperative effort aimed at improving the level of library services and taking them into the 21st Century, she said.
"We will be asking, 'Is there money that would be available from any quarters . . . to help us pay for improved library services?' " Adeniran said.
But some officials said that is wishful thinking. The prolonged recession has forced deep reductions in public school budgets, leaving schools no extra money to help the libraries, said Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis.
"I don't think a bailout is in the offing, quite frankly," he said. "Schools have already been cut to the bone."
And some city officials are so angry about the reduction in hours at their community branches that they have suggested withdrawing from the county-run library network and taking their property tax dollars with them.
Simi Valley and Moorpark are considering checking out of the system and taking over their local branch. Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said the Library Services Agency will not get his city's support unless it reduces what he called a staff top-heavy in administrators.
"Our position is that until they make some major changes in the way they are structured, we prefer to take over our own library than to give them more money," he said.
Library hours throughout the county system were reduced Aug. 2 because the agency's 1993-94 budget was slashed by $1.7 million. The Simi Valley Library--the largest branch in the county system--is now open 28 hours a week, down from 54 hours. And the Moorpark Library, which had been open 51 hours a week, now operates just 20 hours. Many branches are closed on certain weekdays.
The agency also laid off 44 employees to balance its $6.7-million budget, Adeniran said.
The reductions have resulted in longer lines at the circulation counter, fewer new books, elimination of children's programs and fewer specialty librarians, officials said.
The Board of Supervisors last month asked Adeniran to approach other public agencies about the possibility of pooling their resources to help improve library services. Public schools, the community college district and cities were natural targets because the reduction in library services has the greatest impact on students and residents, Adeniran said.
In a report to the supervisors, Adeniran said several public agencies have expressed interest in meeting with the Library Services Agency. At least three meetings will be held in upcoming weeks to discuss various proposals, she said.
Besides soliciting money, the Library Services Agency wants to determine if other public agencies have resources it can use to offer better service for less money. The county's current computer system, for example, allows library users to find a book at any of its 15 branches or within five other library districts in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, Adeniran said.
But California State University has a computer network that instantly links library users to the catalogues of its 21 campuses, said Dan Wakelee, director of Cal State's Ventura center. And a system called Inter-Net links users to a network of library catalogues worldwide.
"If there are ways that the libraries can help each other and share resources, it can be of benefit to everyone," Wakelee said.
It is not the first time that library supporters have sought innovative methods to keep their local branches operating. In Ventura, donations from the community earlier this year helped keep the Avenue Library open after it was slated for closure.
And in February, the Library Services Agency launched a yearlong, $1-million fund-raising drive to buy books.
But this is the first time that public agencies countywide will join together to try to find solutions for the financially ailing library system, Adeniran said.
Adeniran said she did not know if the outcome could give schools or cities more control over their local library branches. She also did not know if any changes would be made in the structure of the Library Services Agency, which is now governed by the Board of Supervisors.
"Those are all questions to be pondered," she said. "It will be a very open discussion."
Simi Valley's mayor said he hopes that frankness will include discussion of the Library Service Agency's staffing. In a recent letter to Adeniran, Stratton said he believes the county library system is top-heavy with administrators based in Ventura, while letting go those who run the branch libraries.
"The most important thing is to keep the library doors open," he said.
But Adeniran defended the recent layoffs, saying they were distributed equally among staff that deal with the public and behind-the-scenes support personnel.
"We still need people to catalogue books, select books, run the computer system and do the payroll," she said.