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Modesto library stays busy with less staff

Reducing library hours last spring did nothing to lessen demand for services.

In fact, as money gets tight and tough times endure, more people might depend on the library for skill building and job searching, Stanislaus County leaders heard Tuesday in an annual report.

"It's alive. It's vibrant. It's a breathing enterprise," Sheridan Beuving, president of the county library advisory committee, told county supervisors. "It's not a quiet place. It's a very busy place."

A couple of hours later, people lined up several deep at the Modesto library to check out materials. No computer was idle as patrons checked job listings, looked for housing and took online classes. Several dozen people read, studied or moved through aisles scanning magazines, books and recordings. Others tapped into the library's free wireless Internet service with laptops.

The scene is similar most days at many of the system's 13 branches throughout Stanislaus County, despite fewer workers and operating hours. Forced to slash costs, county supervisors in May approved a plan that eliminated three full-time positions, half of the libraries' 138 part-time employees and closed the branches an additional day per week.

"We're still pretty much as busy as we were," County Librarian Vanessa Czopek told county officials Tuesday.

Supervisor Vito Chiesa said, "As the economy goes south, I imagine there will be greater need for the library system."

Aurora and Ezequiel Jacobo of Modesto discovered the library's magic long ago. Six years after starting a literacy program, she continues to meet twice a week at a side table with tutor Myra Carpenter, 74, while Ezequiel Jacobo reads Spanish books nearby.

"I am very lucky, very blessed," said Aurora Jacobo, 60, a former cannery worker and Mexico native who became a U.S. citizen. She is nearing her goal of a high school equivalency diploma.

It's a dream come true "to learn another language, communicate with people, go to the doctor and do everything for myself without asking people to help me," she said.

Earlier Tuesday, Beuving had said, "The library is not an option -- it's a necessity for our community. It levels the playing field and makes a difference in people's lives."

Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, praised a small army of volunteers who provide a lifeline to many library programs. Facing a $34 million budget gap, officials have reduced the number of county employees by 4,650 to less than 4,000 in the past couple of years.

Supervisors also voted 5-0 to allow Friends of the Library to use a small space in the Modesto library as a gift shop and used-book store.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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