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VENTURA COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

An Important Gift for Public Libraries

April 01, 2001|STARRETT KREISSMAN | Starrett Kreissman is director of the Ventura County Library system

Last year California voters gave themselves a gift in the form of a $350-million bond act for libraries.

The measure, which became Proposition 14 on the ballot, wended its way through the state Legislature with bipartisan support, was signed by Gov. Gray Davis and captured more than 50% of the popular vote. Unlike local measures, state ballot bond acts require only a majority, not a super-majority.

Changing communities, growing population and aging buildings with no ability to support today's technology have all combined to create a tremendous need for new library buildings in California.

The bond act will support only a fraction of the construction and rehabilitation needed, and competition for the money will be fierce. The rule-making process for application is underway at the state level; the process for applying will be difficult. All jurisdictions that file applications--both those that win funds and those whose applications are rejected--will have invested much time and money. Both a library site and a 35% match of local money for a project are required.

Californians want and need better public libraries. Even with the spread of the Internet and the rise of digitized information, people pour into public libraries. Larger buildings, designed for the digital age, will go a long way toward serving those people, but only a fraction of the need for more space will be satisfied by bond act funds.

Operations money is tight. Very few public libraries, especially county libraries, have sufficient operating funds for the population they serve.

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Buildings have been rewired; as many new computers as can be afforded have been stuffed into spaces never designed for more than a few tables and bookshelves. Now we find ourselves looking at wireless technology for data transmission. Staff is trained and retrained as change continues.

Libraries have become community centers. This is why they remain valued and valuable, even as life becomes more fragmented. Today's libraries sponsor a variety of programs for adults and children. They host homework centers, career centers, literacy tutoring and computer classes--both formal and informal.

Public libraries remain the bedrock representation of our democratic way of life: equal access to information for everyone.

Librarians remain staunch defenders of your right to vital information and to privacy, as well as of the 1st Amendment. They represent the value we Americans place on reading, on education and on improvement and progress. They embody our ability to learn and become something new through learning.

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