What do you need for a great library? The answer, from those pushing the fifth renewal of Stanislaus County’s eighth-cent library sales tax, is money.
While that’s true, there’s more to it. It also takes commitment, innovation, dedication, perspiration and inspiration. Combine all those, and the library becomes something far more than just a place to find books and bookmarms.
It’s a portal for those striving to become citizens, or trying to create a new business, or travel outside the country, or learn to read, or speak a new language. You’ll find all that in a great library, like ours in Stanislaus County.
We urge voters to extend the eighth-cent sales tax, which we’ve been paying since 1995. It costs the average family about $18 a year. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass, but if enough say yes, you won’t be asked again for 12 years.
What if the measure fails? We might lose most of the 13 community libraries and their services. Those that remain would be open only a few hours a day.
“If we were a general-fund library, we’d be a very different library,” said county library director Diane McDonnell.
The library sales tax provides 89 percent of the library’s $10.5 million budget. But back to the original question, the ingredients for a great library:
Commitment – A library’s core function is to house information, but good libraries are committed to getting it to you when and how you need it. At any Stanislaus County branch, you can connect to the web through high-speed WiFi to databases, books, video and more. Over 1,000 new items are added each week, including eBooks, newspapers, magazines, reference materials and paperbacks. Some have big print for seniors, others are sent to “pop up” libraries. Branch have been designed to help users navigate more easily and get answers more quickly; when you’re ready to leave, there are self-checkout stations. Need help finding something? Libraries are open 560 hours a week.
Innovation – Ever hear of a “makers space”? At the county libraries, “makers” will find 3D printers, laser cutters, computers, sewing machines and more. Then they can download apps and instructions onto their phone or tablets. Want a passport? You can apply for one at the main branch. Nearly 20,000 people have used the service so far, raising $217,000 for the library.
Dedication – Staff is constantly looking for ways to make library more relevant, from movies to research to puppet shows. Can’t get to one of the 13 branch libraries? Outreach librarians will come to you, visiting schools, jails and juvenile facilities. You can drop in on “Story Time” for kids 29 times a week. There’s a pop-up library at the Women, Infants and Children’s service center on Hackett Road.
Perspiration – Last year more than 2.3 million people visited the county’s libraries, checking out 1.7 million items (print and digital). There are 424,000 card holders, with 13,500 signing up last year. Digital users logged in 150,000 times and browsed more than 1.3 million webpages. Reference librarians answered 124,000 research requests. Volunteers visited facilities such as nursing and private homes over 1,000 times.
Inspiration – This is a two-way street. The library responded to students doing research by providing Link+, which connects them to 90 city, county and college libraries. When others pleaded for help in reaching children whose schools no longer have libraries (or librarians), the library went on the road and set up after-school programs. They didn’t go alone. More than 50 organizations – Stanislaus Community Foundation, Learning Quest, Stanislaus Literacy Centers, Modesto Toyota, Catholic Charities, Golden Valley Health to name a few – have partnered with the library to create great things.
A diminished library, struggling to survive, cannot create or nourish such partnerships. A library that lacks funding and community support will not innovate, inspire or serve. Stanislaus is one of seven counties that supports its library with a small sales tax. Voting Yes on Measure S renews our commitment to keeping our library great.