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Group: Just say no to privatization
Manteca Friends against private firm running libraries
Tom Wilson gets a signature on a petition from Wendy Benavides. The petition voices displeasure over a proposal to privatize the Stockton-San Joaquin library system. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
Tom Wilson is taking his love for the library to the streets. Literally.

While customers were browsing the booths of fruit and vegetable vendors for the last time this year on Tuesday afternoon at the Manteca Convention and Visitors Bureau Farmers Market, Wilson was staffing a booth organized by the Friends of the Manteca Library to educate the public about the current state of the library system.

San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors are mulling their options over privatization by reviewing a proposal already submitted. Meanwhile, Wilson and other volunteers are out trying to get as many signatures as possible on a petition they’ll turn over to the supervisors to show that the people don’t want to see sweeping changes at the always bustling library.

“Right now the county has a request to privatize the library system, but there’s an old saying that says ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’” Wilson said. “The library should always be full of qualified staff, and open to everyone – a place where even the lowest common denominator can have access to information and services.”

Manteca’s public library currently has the second-longest operating hours in the entire library system – behind only the Mountain House operation – thanks to financial assistance from the City of Manteca’s annual operating budget.
But turmoil in the library system came to a head last spring when the City of Stockton fired controversial Head Librarian Natalie Rencher and two other top department directors as a cost-cutting measure.

Rencher incensed the Friends of the Ripon Library when she agreed with then-Mayor Curt Pernice and several members of the council to cancel an appearance of an alleged “spirit medium” that the group was paying to have perform.

The council believed that since the City of Ripon gave money to the library to keep the hours open longer – and even purchased the building that now houses the collection – that something of a spiritual nature didn’t belong in a public library, especially in a town with strong Christian roots.

Wilson, who was the oldest of 10 kids growing up in Hayward, got his start at libraries at an early age when his dad would pile all of the kids into the car and take off to the library – where he would learn that a simple card could unlock the magic of books and information.

“At first I realized that I could wander around and look at books, and then look at them, and then I realized that I could take them home and read them,” Wilson said. “It opened all kinds of new doors that I didn’t know existed, and that’s what I want to see preserved here.

“The company that is coming in and trying to privatize is making suggestions to bill people on-line for their late fees and things like that. But the problem is these people come to the library to use the Internet, and that’s what a library should be for – for the public to use.”