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Manteca Library: Still standing & filling a big need

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POSTED March 30, 2010 1:44 a.m.
Back in 1994 during a terse exchange over the need for a new Manteca Library, one opponent stood up in the council chambers and declared it was a moot point since public libraries would be on the way out by the year 2000.

Books and libraries themselves would become obsolete, was the argument, so why waste money?

Why waste money indeed.

There is probably nothing more fundamental to a strong economy and a fully functional life than the ability to read as well as comprehend. Given what libraries really are - purveyors of accessible free knowledge and literacy and not simply a warehouse for books - it is short sighted at best to dismiss them as dying dinosaurs.

They could be seen as true community resources that can be used to open doors of not just opportunity but also of new ideas and worlds.

That, one might argue, is what the Internet is doing. The Internet can’t teach you to read nor can it offer rock solid foundations for research. The Internet is without a doubt the biggest source of information ever created. Its very nature, though, makes it more of a Tower of Babel not of just information versus disinformation but also of not being able to hold the source accountable. Things are often put out there just to put it out there. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it isn’t a deliberate process such as compiling a book or other similar product and as such it puts an extremely low threshold on what “makes it on the shelf”, so to speak, to the point there is none.

The Internet is not going away. Just because it has become a 900-trillion-pound gorilla doesn’t mean libraries as a free community resource are becoming obsolete unless, of course, we make them that way.

Libraries have already stepped into the digital world making sure everyone can have access. It may surprise some but Internet knowledge and true Internet access is not universal.

And because it is a gathering place, libraries serve as a place people can get help with learning to read as well as tracking down information to enrich their lives or further their economic lot on life.

For those who think the Internet can supplant libraries and carry out this function, you only have to look at dismal statistics on everything from drop-out rates to adult and even youth literacy. Libraries are a life preserver for such people. They are also a strong purpose for those who use their collections and services.

Libraries have continued, and always will continue to be a legitimate source of recreation. Having the ability to access a free book to read is no different than a city providing a free park where kids and adults can go swing a bat for an impromptu game of baseball. No one is suggesting doing away with parks just because you can play baseball with a Wii console.

Having said that, a massive stand-alone library may not be what Manteca needs to effectively serve the community.

The current economic lull is a perfect time to reassess things and to do some out-of-the-box thinking.

Why not consider creating a community center that includes the facets of a library and a performing arts center collapsed all into one? It is about people sharing and exchanging ideas and learning. Why do they have to stand separately?

Why can’t a true partnership be established with Manteca Unified?

And who said it needs to be one major central location instead of smaller operations put into the neighborhoods at parks where they can have an even bigger impact?

Manteca’s current library is not a Manteca Library in the truest sense.

The overwhelming share of the staff and collection costs are borne by San Joaquin County and the City of Stockton. Manteca provides the building and city taxpayers foot maintenance and utilities as well as a small sliver of the staffing costs plus has augmented the collection budget in the past.

The reason it was set up this way has everything to do with cost.

Manteca may build all of the shells they want for a library, community center or performing arts center but it still costs money to run them year in and year out. The building is relatively cheap. It’s the ongoing expenses that are a killer.

Why not use this time to see whether a combination approach can work and enjoy economies of scale and functions? With the appropriate brainstorming and formation of a game plan complete with an execution strategy Manteca might just come up with something that improves substantially on simply building another stand-alone library dependent on assistance from the county and Stockton to serve Manteca.

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