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Laurie Ender: Libraries: a cornerstone of our community

Live from City Hall

Posted: July 16, 2010 9:57 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2010 6:30 a.m.
 

In the late 1800’s, industrialist Andrew Carnegie began giving away his vast fortune to finance the building of nearly 1,700 libraries in small communities across the United States.  Primarily self-educated through access to libraries, Andrew Carnegie believed investing in public libraries was a particularly beneficial gift for a community because it gave people the opportunity to better themselves. 

Libraries are a cornerstone of our community.  Libraries play an important role by promoting a lifelong love of reading and serving as a central community gathering place.  Today’s libraries offer visitors a wide variety of reading material, including the latest novels, national magazines and computers with free Internet service.  Libraries improve literacy, enhance cultural awareness, help educate our children and engage our seniors.  Clearly, libraries are critically important to our quality of life of a community.

As the impact of the recession is absorbed by communities everywhere, library services are facing deep cuts.  The Los Angeles County, which operates the libraries in Santa Clarita, has cut its library budget by $8.8 million and will close many of its libraries an additional one or two days a week.  Fortunately, this year our local libraries have been spared from these cuts.  The city of Los Angeles has cut one day of service from each of its 73 libraries.  In northern California, rural Siskiyou County considered closing all of its libraries.  Even affluent Santa Barbara is cutting back on library hours.

In Santa Clarita, we value our local libraries and want to do things better.  While other communities are cutting back on library facilities, the city of Santa Clarita is building a new 29,000 square-foot library in Old Town Newhall.  And as other communities slash library hours and services, we believe we can significantly increase local library hours.  And we plan to do both without new taxes.

The city of Santa Clarita’s City Council Library Ad-Hoc Committee, comprised of Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean and myself, has been researching ways to increase library services for Santa Clarita residents without raising fees or taxes.  An option we are exploring that would have tremendous benefits for our community would be for the city of Santa Clarita to assume responsibility for providing library services in Santa Clarita.  The County of Los Angeles currently collects a library tax as part of your annual property taxes, but only spends a portion of those dollars on our local libraries.  If the city were to assume the operation and maintenance of our local libraries, all of that money would be spent on libraries within our community.

For the last 10 years, the city of Santa Clarita has been in the library business.  In the 1990s, residents in the Canyon Country area came to the city councilmembers, complaining that their local library was entirely too small to accommodate a growing community.  Although the oversight for libraries in Santa Clarita was and is currently under the direction of the County of Los Angeles, the city stepped in and designed, built and opened a new and larger library, the Jo Anne Darcy Canyon Country Library.  While the city owns this library, it is managed by the Los Angeles County Public Library. 

A similar scenario was repeated in Newhall when area residents asked for a new and larger library to replace the small, 1950s-era library in that community.  With the completion of the Old Town Newhall Library, the city of Santa Clarita will own two of the three libraries in the city.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, I asked my fellow councilmembers to agendize this issue for future City Council discussion and action. The Council agreed to do so and asked that the staff and the City Council Ad-Hoc Library Committee meet with stakeholders, residents and community leaders about this proposal over the next several weeks.

As part of the City’s initial research on the issue, it was noted that under city management, library services could be enhanced without raising taxes or fees.  Some of these enhancements include increasing hours at the Canyon Country Library and the Old Town Newhall Library by nearly 20 percent each (to match the hours at the Valencia Library); increased local control of library services and programs and better tailoring them to the specific needs of area residents; and opening all of the local libraries on Sunday.

For more information regarding this exciting opportunity to expand library services in the city of Santa Clarita by assuming the management of our local libraries, log on to www.santaclaritalibrary.com.  A special library information webpage, accessible from the city’s home page, will guide you to more information about the discussion.

Laurie Ender is a councilmember for the city of Santa Clarita and can be reached at: lender@santa-clarita.com. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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