Dick Hagerty: Stanislaus County’s top librarian the force behind much of its progress

columns@modbee.comMarch 2, 2014 

Our Stanislaus County librarian, Vanessa Czopek, will be stepping down this month after 18 years, 13 as head of the department.

I stopped by her office to reminisce about her career and asked, “What do you consider your outstanding achievement?”

“Well, Dick, issuing a library card to your dog, Mali, certainly ranks right up there,” was her smiling reply. As always, Vanessa was right on cue with a quick and witty response.

Seriously, under her direction our library has made remarkable progress in many areas.

The “virtual branch” has brought fully computerized materials catalogs for looking up books, and reserving them online is a simple operation. And the best part is that these books, when available, will be delivered to the closest branch to your home and renewals can be achieved online as well.

The “e-book” facility is also easy to use and so convenient. Every week, dozens of new titles are added to the e-book source and a simple operation delivers the requested book to your iPad, Android or similar device for 21 days. You need not worry about overdue fines, because after 21 days the book simply vaporizes from your reader.

Czopek is very excited about the joint effort with the Stanislaus Community Foundation and the Learning Quest-Stanislaus Literacy Centers called the “Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.” This targets early literacy to bring young students up to speed by the third grade. Those of us who work in economic development know the problems of low graduation rates and even lower testing scores and educational achievement. These are major impediments for our area in recruiting new business.

During Czopek’s tenure, the Stanislaus Library Foundation has significantly raised both funding and assistance to the library programs and has also sponsored community events, which have been well-received.

At her request, I joined the foundation board and served 10 years, including two as board president. At my retirement, I was given the Shining Star Award (along with the coveted library card for my yellow lab) – an honor I greatly appreciate.

Also during her regime, we have had two successful countywide special sales tax campaigns, which have generated sufficient funds to maintain the library at its traditional level of operation. You need look no further than San Joaquin County to see libraries that only open a few hours per week to appreciate the importance of these special tax levies.

On the down side, there has been no real solution to the need for consistent financial support aside from the taxes. The last tax measure was only set for five years, and in June 2018 when the current tax expires there may be serious pushback by voters and supporters to further extend these measures. Lacking this tax revenue, the library will surely revert to a shell of its current self, with closed branches, few new books being purchased and minimal amounts of assistance to patrons.

As a kid, I worked part time in my local public library for four years. Libraries have always been a passion with our family. We can only hope for bright days ahead and to wish our departing librarian the very best in her retirement.

And, if you are on her insider list, she might even share her “best reads” list, which she circulates each year. There are always some golden nuggets buried in this annual recap of her reading, and I now publish one myself. Readers are like that.

Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to

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