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The case to make library investment a high priority

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POSTED May 31, 2014 1:10 a.m.

Are libraries relevant?

Just ask Leonar Borges.

Borges is the 2014 Sierra High valedictorian. She’s heading to California State University in Turlock this fall to pursue a career in nursing.

She’s smart. driven, and articulate. She dreams of doing good things for her family, her community, and her country.

And she credits the Manteca Public Library for helping her.

Borges immigrated to the United States from the Azores Islands in Portugal with her parents when she was 4 years old.

Her family’s computer is not connected to the Internet. That’s where the library comes in.

Nineteen years ago Manteca started getting serious about securing a library for the 21st century for a growing community. There were a fairly large number of folks who predicted libraries would be obsolete within a few years due to the Internet. They were as wrong-headed as library supporters who believed the answer was building a gleaming $32 million library complex.

The bottom line, as Andrew Carnegie noted, is access to knowledge.

The Manteca Library by almost all American standards is too small for the population it serves, antiquated in its layout, and in need of more resources.

The solution is not building the library equivalent of the Taj Mahl. A  spartan box-like structure would do. What matters are two things: What is available inside and access.

Manteca’s leadership – elected and otherwise – need to get serious and strive to put energy into expanding library opportunities and access as feverishly as they do for creating soccer and baseball fields.

This does not mean hire a consultant to do a boilerplate survey and research and basically come up with the solution that Manteca needs a new library. An idiot could tell you that.

Instead the City Council needs to bring together select people – educators, those that work with people struggling to get ahead, library advocates, high school students, developers, and combine them with at-large community members from every distinct community within Manteca such as the Woodward Park neighborhood, central Manteca, Del Webb, East Manteca, and so forth.

The charge would be simple: What do they see as needs in the realm of the public access of knowledge whether it is by book, Internet, gathering places for discussions and community-based teaching or perhaps something else. Once they list those, then they can consider options that can make those needs happen sooner than later. That means a $32 million mega-library is out of the question.

They also need to look for proposals that are heavy on making things work in terms of equipment, material, and a venue with less emphasis on the building and a central location.

Some possible options are satellite community learning centers/libraries that could even include existing storefronts, remodeling the existing library and adding on perhaps into the parking lot for 21st century technology and needs and freeing up space currently used for that purpose for more stacks, and developing libraries jointly with Manteca Unified at future schools such as the proposed high school campus south of the 120 Bypass.

Then have those findings and recommendations presented to the City Council. The council could then have staff place estimated dollar amounts on the options. The next step would be a series of meetings throughout the community to vet the proposals.

Then, without the aid of a consultant, elected leaders need to do what they were elected to do and zero in on an option for library services.

Next they need to look at real resources that they have: development agreements, bonus bucks and joining forces with the school district as examples.

They could possible negotiate the building of a facility – or remodeling of an existing building as Ripon did – as a condition of approval for one or more larger developments. They could tap into future bonus bucks. Manteca for all practical purposes squandered $12 million in bonus bucks to balance general fund spending before the Great Recession forced them to “right size” city services and the workforce. While it saved the city’s bacon, it represents a huge missed opportunity to have growth finance new amenities for all Manteca residents. A lot could gave been done with $12 million including a reasonable expansion and remodel of the existing library.

As things stand now, the library is on the back burner without benefit of even a low burning flame to keep it on the radar of community needs.

Part of that has to do with believing the only solution is a huge new library costing $32 million or more. Part of it has to do with the fact there are no real hardcore advocates for library services on the City Council – or in the community for that matter – that are willing to engage in a continuing civic conversation and organizing effort to make it happen.

Nothing happens overnight. It took close to 25 years to make Woodward Park a reality. And it required constant pushing to get it going forward.

The reason why libraries are important is because there are thousands of Leonor Borges in our community who are not in a position to have access to the Internet or even continuing education.

Enhancing and expanding library services is a helping hand up. It’s not a handout.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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