By DENNIS WYATT
Mas’ood Cajee is anxious to write the next chapter for the Manteca Library.
The Manteca dentist is chairman of the Strong Libraries = Strong Communities that is working toward a ballot measure to provide stable operational support for the Stockton-San Joaquin County library system that includes Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon. He also serves on the board of the Library & Literacy Foundation for San Joaquin County.
And now he is hoping to build community support in Manteca to invest in library infrastructure including new branch libraries as well as upgrading the existing branch facility on Center Street next to Library Park.
“I tell people that if we support our libraries today, our libraries will be there to support us tomorrow,” Cajee said.
Cajee’s dedication to improving libraries in San Joaquin County and subsequently the quality of life of those that use the library to learn to read, access the Internet, obtain information they can’t elsewhere, or for recreational purposes among other things led to him being awarded recently with the 2015 White House Conference on Library and Information Services Award.
The highest national award given to an individual library advocate for public libraries was the only one given at a Capitol Hill gathering on National Library Legislative Day.
Cajee notes libraries are more relevant than ever before.
“We assume that everyone has Internet access and that’s just not the case,” Cajee said.
County library advocates point out the role that libraries play in fostering reading among young children, interaction between adults to learn, adult literacy, and even helping people survive day-to-day.
An example are well used Clinton automotive reference guides that often are stained with grease marks by those who can’t afford to have others fix their vehicles that are crucial for them to get to work.
“We need to get ahead of the curve,” Cajee said of his hopes to secure two additional smaller branch libraries for Manteca.
Cajee favors decentralizing library services to make them easier to access given distance as well as barriers such as the 120 Bypass can make it difficult for young people and others without transportation means to access various library services.
The current Manteca Library on Center Street was dedicated in January 1962. It was expanded in 1977 to its current configuration with the prediction it would be adequate for the city through 1995 when population was projected to reach 32,000. Manteca’s actual population in 1995 was 45,060 residents. Manteca now has 73,000 residents.
Advocates such as Cajee note many believe in the Age of the Internet where you can Google seemingly anything that libraries are on their last legs. But they beg to differ with plenty of facts tempered with knowledge.
uNot everything is online. You can Google a lot of facts but the library is best to gain knowledge.
uGoogle is not free. Everything from business data bases to electronically borrowing books costs money on the Internet. That’s not the case for libraries.
As for libraries overall:
uSeattle — a city with the same population as San Joaquin County— is the second most literate city in America with a library for every 15,000 residents.
uSt. Paul, Minn., — a city with half the population of San Joaquin County — is the seventh most literate city in America and has a library for every 11,000 residents.
uSan Jose, a city not rated for literacy, has a library for every 42,000 residents.
uSan Joaquin County has a library for every 58,000 residents.
uManteca has a library for every 73,000 residents.
uSt. Paul spends $62 per capita for libraries, San Jose $25, and San Joaquin County $15.
uSan Joaquin County has a 77.2 percent high school graduation rate compared to the nation’s 86 percent high school completion rate.
uSome 18.1 percent of San Joaquin County’s adult population has a college degree compared to 28.8 percent nationally.
The Great Recession and the City of Stockton’s bankruptcy had a major impact on the library system. Stockton runs the system with cities such as Manteca, Tracy, Escalon Lathrop and Ripon providing the building and covering maintenance costs. In some cases cities such as Manteca contributed additional money for more hours and to buy additional books and reference materials. Lodi has its own library.
In 2000, there were 125 staff workers at 12 libraries countywide. Today there are just 49 staff workers and the Caesar Chavez Main Library in Stockton is closed on weekends.
San Joaquin County wasn’t always struggling to provide libraries.
In 1964, it was considered the ninth best library system out of 150 in California.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com