The future of county’s libraries is uncertain
Not so many years ago, Nevada County’s library system was an institution in decline. Because of budget cuts, the county libraries’ schedules were severely reduced. And if somehow, someone managed to get to one of the libraries during the brief periods when the doors were actually open, the collection of books was so outdated that the visit seemed pointless, anyway.
Those are what many library patrons might prefer to think of as the bad old days, an age long past. Since then, a determined group of community leaders mustered enough support to pass a new sales tax to bring the library system back to a more respectable condition.
But it may be time to recall those troubled times again, because the libraries’ future is far from guaranteed.
Certainly none of those who use the library system should become complacent. The one-eighth cent sales tax measure to support our local libraries, passed roughly four years ago, is set to expire in just over a year. A measure will be on the November ballot to extend the sales tax. We trust that libraries remain popular, but asking taxpayers for money – even if it’s in the form of an existing tax – is never a cakewalk, and it shouldn’t be.
If things weren’t difficult enough, the county is losing Francisco Pinneli, the librarian who shepherded the system’s renewal, to the city of Santa Maria. His last day is Friday.
So now the challenge is not only to find a new librarian, but to secure the very funding the library system needs to continue to operate.
The library tax brings in about $1 million a year for the library system. By way of comparison, the county coughs up another $565,000 a year from its coffers. The increased funding helped replenish the bookshelves and keep the doors open longer – hours increased 183 percent since 1997, according to Pinneli’s figures.
With the new funding, Pinneli was able to make a number of improvements to the troubled library system. They included more than doubling the staffing, the development of new literacy services with the help of a state grant, new computers with Internet access and Internet classes, programs for children and teens, and even new libraries at Bear River High School and Penn Valley.
Pinneli has noted that the sales tax that makes the expanded services possible is partly born by the tourists who spend money here, so the burden is a shared one. And the committee pushing the sales tax extension includes many of the same people who initially helped push the tax through in the first place.
The big question is what happens now? Are libraries still important? The answer could be revealed in the coming months, as the county considers a replacement for Pinneli and voters decide whether to extend the sales tax. The county leaders and the voters have weighty decisions to make.
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