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Push for better libraries
Group eyes June 2016 tax override measure
A volunteer helps shelf books at the Manteca Library. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Donna Brown’s message is clear: Libraries are more relevant than ever before.

The former Stockton deputy city manager can rattle off why that’s the case in the Age of Google. She offers plenty of examples involving the Manteca branch library that’s part of the Stockton-San Joaquin County system including:

• An unemployed resident used the computer’s computers to search and successfully apply online for a job loading railroad cars.

• A young man whose car broke down and couldn’t afford to pay for it to be repaired used the library’s automotive repair reference books that couldn’t be checked out to repair his vehicle in the library parking lot.

• A young mom used the library’s resources to get her child hooked on reading and prepared to start school.

Those are just three of an endless array of library success stories Brown and other library supporters can cite as they gear up for a library awareness campaign. They hope the effort will ultimately lead to a tax measure on the June 2016 ballot to expand libraries that they see as a step up for the unemployed, immigrants, children, and a way to reduce crime and boost the county’s literacy rate.

Brown is part of the community-based Strong Libraries = Strong Communities endeavor.

Brown spoke before the Manteca Rotary Club Thursday at Mt. Mike’s Pizza about the organization’s efforts and why libraries are a key to a community’s economic and social well-being.

She noted many believe in the Age of the Internet where you can Google seemingly anything that libraries are on their last legs. But she begs to differ — and does so with plenty of facts tempered with knowledge.

“Why can’t we just Google everything?” Brown asked rhetorically. “Why do we need libraries? There’s a big difference between facts and knowledge. Not everything is online. You can Google a lot of facts but the library is best to gain knowledge.”

Brown noted that “Google is not free.” Everything from business data bases to electronically borrowing nooks costs money on the Internet. That’s not the case for libraries.

The facts she offers about libraries:

• Seattle — 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.

• St. 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.

• San Jose, a city not rated for literacy, has a library for every 42,000 residents.

• San Joaquin County, also not rated, has a library for every 58,000 residents.

• Manteca has a library for every 72,000 residents.

• St. Paul spends $62 per capita for libraries, San Jose $25, and San Joaquin County $15.

• San Joaquin County has a 77.2 percent high school graduation rate compared to the nation’s 86 percent high school completion rate.

• Some 18.1 percent of San Joaquin County’s adult population has a college degree compared to 28.8 percent nationally.

Brown noted that before people can get jobs not only do they in most cases have to go online to fill out applications but they also have to know how to read.

Libraries provide free computers and Internet access for those who can’t afford it as well as programs to help those adults that are illiterate to learn how to read.

Brown noted vibrant libraries lead to greater literacy, children better prepared for school, lifelong learning, and a source of leisure for many.

The library has stayed abreast with technology even offering e-books for loan.

“We find that most people, who read e-books, are adults,” Brown said.

Brown referenced a recent poll that showed young people are reading in much higher numbers than most people suspected.

The Great Recession and the City of Stockton’s bankruptcy has had a major impact on the library system. Stockton runs the system with cities such as Manteca, Tracy, Escalon Lathrop and Ripon providing buildings 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. And as late as 1998, California State Librarian Kevin Starr who is a well-regarded California historian considered the Stockton-San Joaquin Library System as being strong enough “to support a small college.”

Strong Libraries = Strong Communities plans to conduct polling after its awareness campaign is completed to determine the stomach voters may have for a tax override measure.

Manteca’s Dr. Mas’ood Cajee is chairman of the group.