Jeff Ackerman: Rescuing the written word | TheUnion.com
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Jeff Ackerman: Rescuing the written word

There should never have been a doubt. Time and time again … just when I think you’ve been tapped out … you deliver.

Knowing that, I was still blown away Thursday when the mailman dropped off a very large stack of envelopes filled with donations to our Save Our Libraries campaign we launched just 24 hours earlier.

Based on the letters and phone calls and comments we’ve gotten as the county continues to consider contracting our library operations to a private company, we got a pretty good sense that most of you were very passionately opposed to that notion.



As we’ve discussed, our libraries are facing some serious financial trouble and the county has been working feverishly to produce ways to keep the five branches open.

I’m the last one to suggest anyone send a donation to any government agency. More than half of my last check went to taxes, so I know that our problems today are not a result of not paying enough taxes, but government’s inability to live within its means. Unless California understands that soon, I don’t hold much hope for any kind of recovery.




On the other hand, I don’t believe our libraries have been mismanaged, or foolish with our money.

Librarian Mary Ann Trygg has responded as best she can to the continued deterioration of sales tax revenue that primarily funds her operating budget. Library hours have been reduced and payroll slashed. And through the process of reviewing all options, a couple of committees have proposed further cuts, a solution they say is better than privatization. Our large branches are only open 40 hours per week (down from 52) and our smaller branches (Penn Valley and Bear River) only 20 hours each week.

And the Friends of Nevada County Libraries has even offered to run the Doris Foley Library in Nevada City. That library is only open six hours each week and the annual operating costs are roughly $25,000 or so.

Some suggested we simply raise the sales tax again, which would require a vote that I’m not sure would go as well as the last one. Again … most of us pay more than our share of taxes already. In fact … did you know that only 1 percent or so of California’s 37 million residents pay an estimated 50 percent of all income taxes collected each year? So much for the notion that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes. What would happen if those 5,000 or so residents moved out of state, finally tired of carrying California’s bags?

And where should we draw the line on taxes? Every single public service – from our schools to in-home health care – is under attack today because we simply have not lived within our means and government is generally incapable of getting smaller.

Why special treatment for the libraries? Why should The Union choose to help rescue the libraries when all around there are needs just as significant as keeping our libraries open?

Literacy. We have a vested interest in reading. We have a vested interest in the printed word. Ours is an emotional connection. It’s a natural one. The Doris Foley Library, for example, houses copies of The Union dating back to 1864 … more than 145 years’ worth.

There is still something special about words on paper that a computer screen simply cannot offer (including the new Apple reader for “just” $599). At least for the time being. They wrote our obituary at least 10 years ago and our presses continue to churn. Many of my colleagues fled the newspaper industry in 1995 or so and headed for Silicon Valley, where they hoped to get rich in the new digital world. Some got rich, but more lost their jobs when the dotcom boom ended. The law of gravity requires companies to make a profit at some point.

And I’m not saying newspapers are in wonderful shape today. Our challenges are significant. It’s just tough to determine how much of our troubles are a result of transition, or simply a sign of the horrible economic times. How many industries aren’t facing challenges today (the federal government and Google don’t count)? How is the banking business today? How about real estate? Auto? How about the airline industry? How’s that going these days? Let’s check in on NBC, CBS and ABC. Last I checked, they were on life support. Radio? Same boat.

Evidenced by your contributions, many of you are also very much attached to words on paper. We do have an “older” demographic, so it makes sense that “old folks like us” would feel that connection. A trip to the children’s section might change that viewpoint, however. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in the libraries with my son Luke. In fact, Luke spends most every lunch hour inside the Nevada Union High School Library. He’s 17 now (and VERY computer literate), but he just loves books.

Our plan is to sustain this library effort. By the end of the week we’ll provide an update of the total, complete with a personal thanks to all of you who made donations. I can’t tell you how much they meant to me and to our libraries.

And for those who still wish to participate, but missed last week’s envelope, donations may be sent to: Save Our Libraries, c/o The Union at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

Thank you very, very much.

Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299 or jackerman@theunion.com.


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