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VENTURA : Staging a Grim Reminder of Libraries' Plight

October 08, 1995|ERIC WAHLGREN

Flanked by mourners clad in black, "minister" Michael Hutchinson eulogized Ventura's libraries Saturday under the colossal fig tree in Plaza Park.

"We are gathered together today to acknowledge what would happen if our library is allowed to die--to witness beforehand the tragic loss to our community, our friends, our families and ourselves," Hutchinson, a 39-year-old library clerk, said as he stood over a casket filled with children's books and a cardboard cutout of Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat."

Ventura library boosters staged the mock funeral Saturday to dramatize the plight of the county's cash-poor libraries and garner support for a Nov. 7 library initiative, Measure L. Without new funding, Ventura's Avenue Library and other small county branch libraries may have to close in March.

"A few people complained that the funeral is too dark, too harsh," said Robert Leho, a 39-year-old machinist from Ventura and one of the event's organizers. "But these libraries really are so close to the edge."

A New Orleans-style funeral procession wrapped around a block in Ventura's downtown with mourners who ranged from small children to residents in their 80s, many toting black parasols and banners reading "Save our Libraries, 'Yes' on L."

Cars honked as the pallbearers carrying the casket shuffled down the sidewalk in front of a Dixieland band that belted out a string of mostly mournful jazz tunes.

"We need to keep our libraries open," said 9-year-old Robyn Jones of Ventura. "That way, we can learn to read."

Staci Biggs, a 10-year-old Oxnard resident, was bringing up the rear of the procession while playing a noisy metal washboard.

"People need education," she shouted into the crowd of nearly 50 marchers.

State funding and other cuts have forced Ventura County's Library Services Agency to slash its budget by nearly 50% since 1992. In response, library supporters have put on the ballot Measure L, which would generate about $1 million in additional revenues for libraries in Ventura by raising property taxes $35 per parcel.

If two-thirds of the voters who turn out approve the measure, the sum raised would keep the community's libraries open five days a week and nearly double the budget for buying books.

Lori Hamilton, a 38-year-old graphic designer from Ventura, was returning home after shopping for produce at the farmers market when she stumbled upon the flock of mourners.

"Is this because the libraries are dying?" she said. "This is very sad."

Hamilton said the possible loss of libraries has many potential repercussions on the community.

"People need access to information to make intelligent decisions," Hamilton said. "If people can't make intelligent decisions, how can we have a democratic society?"

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