George Boardman: Libraries are one of the better investments made with our tax dollars
Observation from the center stripe: No surprise edition
WHY AM I not surprised that our local high schools are experiencing several cases of whooping cough? … THE WORLD Health Organization claims measles has been eradicated in the Americas. Have they been to Nevada County? … BECAUSE GUN owners apparently don’t think it’s important, we have a new law that requires them to lock in the trunk of their cars any guns they leave behind … IF USING the DNA of three people to produce one child isn’t the start of designer babies, I don’t know what is … MISS UNIVERSE is shaping up as Hillary Clinton’s Joe the Plumber … WHAT MAKES Snapchat think its Spectacles are less creepy than Google Glass? … IS IT consumer fraud if a pound cake weighs less than 16 ounces? …
I have long believed that public libraries are one of the more useful government functions funded with my tax dollars, probably because I became hooked on them at an early age.
One of the rites of passage in my family was the day you were escorted to the main branch of the San Mateo Public Library to sign up for your very own library card. This was done with the expectation that you would use the card on a regular basis.
My parents were big-time readers and there were always plenty of newspapers, magazines and books in the house. But there was a limit to how much of this stuff they could afford or find room for, so it was common for my parents to include a stop at the library when we were running errands.
I was slower than my brother and sister to pick up the reading habit, but I eventually began taking advantage of the resources a library has to offer and have been a regular patron of them since then. But they can be distracting — I wasted many hours as a student reading the endless supply of magazines in the periodicals section when I should have been researching a term paper.
I was able to pass on this valuable gift to our daughter when I took her to the children’s section of our library when she was about 5. She looked around for a moment then said: “Lots more books than I have.” Thanks to the internet, she patronizes her hometown library in Portland, Oregon, even though she’s working in China.
The libraries in western Nevada County are more modest than the ones I’m used to, but they do have something in common with every library I have ever used: the most helpful government employees you’re ever going to meet. I don’t know if the work attracts that type of person or if it’s the training, but library employees could teach a few things to every surly clerk and unctuous bureaucrat I’ve ever encountered.
Despite its limited resources, our local library system does an excellent job of reaching out to the public. My niece informs me that the programs for young children are very good, and they even have a buddy system that gets library materials to people who are unable to visit in person.
But our libraries need a more stable source of funding to expand services — particularly the hours the branches are open — and plan for the future, so they are asking local voters to approve Measure A in next month’s election.
Measure A would raise the portion of the sales tax dedicated to funding our libraries from one-eighth of a cent to one-fourth of a cent, increasing annual revenue from $1.8 million to anywhere from $3.6 million to $4 million a year.
County Librarian Laura Pappini points out that the current tax, which will expire in 2018, provides about 65 percent of the library’s operating budget, making it difficult to do any long-range planning because it has to compete with other programs for limited county resources. The tax increase would give the library system a solid financial foundation.
Among other things, our libraries could increase their hours of operation, making it easier for more people to take advantage of this community resource. The Bear River Station is closest to where I live, but it’s open just 12 hours a week. Like many people I know in the South County, I find it easier to use the Auburn branch of the Placer County Library than drive to Grass Valley or Nevada City.
Some people believe traditional libraries are obsolete in the age of the internet, where everything can be brought to your computer screen. I maintain they are more necessary than ever. In an age of vacuous internet content and mind-numbing computer games, libraries offer a quiet oasis where you can encounter the great thinkers and most imaginative storytellers we have. Believe it or not, most people still prefer to read books the old-fashioned way.
Our local libraries have adjusted to the changing times, and have computerized many services you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. They can do more with a more predictable source of income, making sure everybody has access to the information they need to compete in our increasingly knowledge-based economy.
The current one-eighth of a cent tax was passed by voters 10 years ago when the library was laying off workers. The Union editorialized at the time that if we weren’t willing to provide this lifeline for our libraries, we might as well close them.
Our libraries are not currently on life support, but they are just the next recession away from that condition under the current system for funding operations. The tax increase requires approval from two-thirds of the voters, always a tough hurdle to jump. While there is no organized opposition to date, some of the usual suspects have expressed their skepticism about the need for more revenue.
It would be helpful if our elected officials came forward individually to endorse the proposal, and our local Republican and Democratic central committees agreed that this is one tax worth paying.
Library proponents are asking for a modest increase in support. An additional one-eighth of a cent is a small price to pay for one of the few invaluable government services.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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