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Thousand Oaks Patrons Will Go the Extra Mile

August 28, 1994|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Once a week, Marilyn Kellogg and her 8-year-old daughter, Kristi, drive from their home in Camarillo to the Thousand Oaks Library.

Although the Ventura County library system has a branch in Camarillo, Kellogg prefers the city-run library in Thousand Oaks. It has more materials, more staff and is open more hours.

"I've been coming here ever since they opened the library," she said. "There's just so many more books. It's a great library."

Thousand Oaks officials opened their library in 1982 in the belief that they could provide better service than the county.

Today, the Thousand Oaks Library, which includes a branch in Newbury Park, is widely considered among librarians and patrons to be the best in the county. It is also the most heavily used, with an average of 1.4 million books checked out each year.

"That's a phenomenal use level for a community of 110,000 (people)," said Steve Brogden, deputy director of the library. "Our circulation is among the highest in the country."

The Thousand Oaks Library also boasts the largest book collection of any single library in the county, with 325,000 volumes, compared with the county library system's collection of 733,000. It also houses a large video collection and is renowned for its American radio and television broadcasting archives.

Perhaps most important, though, the Thousand Oaks Library is open 55 hours a week over six days, far more than any of the county's 16 library branches, or even the municipal libraries in Oxnard and Santa Paula.

"We're the only library between Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara that is open on Sunday," Brogden said. The library is dark on Fridays.

For years, thousands of residents from Los Angeles and Ventura counties, such as Kellogg, would drive to Thousand Oaks to take advantage of the library's extensive collections and services. In 1991, a city-commissioned study discovered that 38% of the library's cardholders lived outside the city limits.

To help pay operating costs, while giving more priority to its residents, the city began charging non-residents a $55 annual checkout fee.

Although the number of non-resident users has since declined sharply, there are still about 2,500 library cardholders who live outside Thousand Oaks, Brogden said.

"We've had some people, especially from Los Angeles County, where some libraries have been closed for a long time, come up and buy a library card without blinking an eye," he said.

The fee has not deterred Kellogg from using the library.

"I don't like it, but what can you do?" she asked. "I can't afford to buy a lot of these books."

Bob Biery, the city's finance director, said about $2.5 million of the library's budget comes from a combination of property taxes, fees and fines. The city supplements the library budget with $2 million from its general fund.

On average, the city spends $41.20 a year per resident on library books and services--nearly twice the national average of $21.24. In contrast, the county library system spends $15.74 per person.

"It costs; there's no question about that," Biery said. "But the community has decided to make this a priority."

The only other city-based library in Ventura County is Oxnard's, which completed a $12-million state-of-the-art facility in 1992.

But while the Oxnard Library is larger than the Thousand Oaks Library--72,000 square feet compared with 62,000 square feet--Oxnard's library budget and full-time staff are less than half of what there are in Thousand Oaks. Also, the Oxnard Library is closed two days a week--Fridays and Sundays.

In addition, the Santa Paula High School Public Library District operates the 65,000-volume Blanchard Community Library, catering to Santa Paula residents.

For many Thousand Oaks residents, the high costs of running the city's library are outweighed by the educational opportunities offered to its youths.

"There are a lot of young people who can't afford to take college courses or that have no other access to books," said Mary Nuzum, a regular library patron. "With a library, you can educate yourself."

Resident Patti Hanson said her 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, is dependent on the library to help her with book reports and other school projects.

"It's extremely important to students because they have all the reference materials they need," Hanson said. "We come here three or four times a week to check out books and rent videos."

Steve Rubenstein, executive director of the Thousand Oaks Chamber of Commerce, said the library is also good for business, giving the city one more advantage in attracting companies whose workers want and need good information services.

"It's part of being a well-rounded community," he said. "When you have a well-educated community, it raises the socioeconomic level."

Despite all of its resources, the library has had its share of problems. The Jan. 17 earthquake caused about $2 million in damage, forcing the library to close for three months. The building reopened in April, but repairs are not expected to be completed until late next year.

Due to budget cutbacks, a hiring freeze has been in effect at the library since 1991. At that time, six full-time staff members were let go.

Still, Brogden said the library remains on solid footing, offering more services than many other city and county library systems.

"In this economic climate, we're doing very well to be open six days a week," he said. "People have heard me say this before, but this library limping is better than many libraries at a gallop."

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