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Advocates seeking additional Manteca libraries
Masood Cajee is advocating Manteca build two more libraries. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

They were lined up 10 deep at the check-out desk. Every available computer was taken. The children’s section was bursting with young people.

It was a typical Monday at the Manteca Library.

It is also common for people to be lined up waiting for the doors to open.

Not bad for an institution that many were writing off for dead in the Age of the Internet.

But as Manteca dentist and library/learning advocate Mas’ood Cajee points out such wrong-headed conclusions happen when you view a public library as simply a depository of books.

“It’s much more than just books,” Cajee said.

And if you think libraries are sill irrelevant, consider this: Public libraries in San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Francisco Sunnyvale Santa Clara and other locales in the home turf of tech firms such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and others are constantly busy and at times appear to be bursting at the seams.

Cajee chairs the Strong Libraries = Strong Communities working to improve support of libraries throughout San Joaquin County. He also serves as a board member for the San Joaquin County Library & Literacy Foundation.

Cajee is also among those gearing up efforts to lobby for additional libraries for Manteca.

“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 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.

Manteca’s budget document lists library expansion as being outside of its five year goals and carrying a price tag of $33 million.

That cost was based on building a new two-story library at the current location.

Cajee believes the next library could — and should — be a joint use venture and/or partnership.

He believes Manteca can build branch libraries and upgrade and expand the current library for less than the $33 million the city originally estimated the cost would be for a new “central” branch library.

Marrying a library with a youth center, a second senior center, or other such uses would reduce the amount of staffing overall plus extend other amenities into the community where they are more accessible. It is similar to what Lathrop did when they built the Generations Center that combines a library with a teen center.

Cajee also believes a partnership with the school district could also maximize the effectiveness of tax dollars.

Cajee said libraries have been evolving with the needs of the people they serve making the need for massive library space obsolete.

Libraries today loan everything from audio books to e-books to providing literacy classes for adults, access to Internet and computers, and a repertoire of other civic engagements that go beyond just books.

“Books are never going away,” Cajee said.

But —as he pointed out — libraries are more than just books; they are learning centers, a place where people who don’ have computers or Internet access can connect to the world where resumes are filed on line, and a place for recreational opportunities.

The goal, as Cajee sees it, is to provide “brawn and brain” opportunities for people.

Cajee lauded Manteca for providing recreation opportunities and facilities to encourage citizens of all ages to stay fit and healthy. Manteca has nearly 60 parks, a senior center, BMX track, separated bicycle paths, lighted soccer fields, swimming pool, skate park, indoor soccer arena, and numerous playing fields along with a municipal golf course.

Now, Cajee said Manteca needs to step up its game when it comes to the “brains” portion of the equation.