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Tale of a Troubled Library

September 08, 2002

The Santa Ana Library faces big challenges on two fronts. It continues to suffer from a painful lack of financial support, and, in a city where an overwhelming majority of the residents speak Spanish, just 10% of its books are en espanol.

The former executive director of the American Library Assn. describes Santa Ana's library as "probably one of the worst cases in California" when it comes to meeting residents' needs. The library's director acknowledges that the system has become "irrelevant" to many residents.

What's needed is an influx of cash, which will be tough to find because libraries compete against fire, police and other municipal services for funding. Santa Ana spends just $12.51 per resident each year on its library, woefully below the $46.99 per capita spending in Santa Clara County. The library ranks 142nd out of 178 library systems in California in per capita spending.

Santa Ana also must get in step with reality. Those who would rather not see any Spanish-language books, magazines and newspapers on library shelves undoubtedly are applauding. But they're wrong. The American Library Assn. recognizes the need for diversity on library shelves. During its annual meeting in June, the world's oldest and largest public library association hosted "Children! eforeNinos! Kinder! Mwana! Les Enfants!," a panel featuring libraries in Tucson and Queens that are forging strong links to families in multicultural neighborhoods.

Reading is reading, whether it's done in English, Spanish, Vietnamese or German, and Santa Ana should be encouraging its residents to read. The lack of Spanish-language and bilingual children's books is particularly frustrating for Spanish-speaking parents who want to read to their children, a practice that can foster a lifelong love of reading.

Librarians in Santa Ana are to be applauded for trying to make reading attractive to children. The library is dedicating a hefty percentage of its woefully tiny budget to youth-oriented programs, an emphasis that should help to create the desired foundation for reading.

Libraries have a strong tradition of providing immigrants with reading material that helps them become literate and productive members of society. Libraries aren't required to stock foreign-language books, magazines and newspapers, but most do so out of a desire to help foster literacy. No one expects the library to spend its limited funds solely on Spanish-language titles, but shelves clearly should reflect the fact that 76% of Santa Ana residents speak Spanish.

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