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Does SJ County love Ronald McDonald more than libraries?
manteca library
volunteer shelves books in June at the Manteca Library. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

A citizens group striving to write a new chapter for public libraries in San Joaquin County is counting the Golden Arches to make its case.

Stronger Libraries = Stronger Communities notes nationally there are more public libraries (16,766) compared to McDonald’s locations (14,157). But within the boundaries of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System that excludes Lodi there are 23 McDonald’s restaurants and 13 library branches. In Stockton there are five library branches and 13 McDonald’s while in Manteca there are five McDonald’s and one library. Tracy has three McDonald’s and one library while Lathrop and Ripon each have a library and a McDonald’s. There are libraries in Escalon, Mountain House, Linden, and Thornton but no McDonald’s.

The McDonald’s comparison to libraries is a shorthand way of underscoring how Stockton-San Joaquin spends $15 per capita for libraries compared to $47 for California and $78 for the nation as a whole.


Elected leaders talk

about education but

don’t target libraries

Candidates for city councils and the county Board of Supervisors each election cycle push for a better educated work force in order to improve the economic lot of San Joaquin residents by attracting employers that provide bigger paychecks for jobs requiring more skills and education. And although they typically vow to work with schools as well as pledge to secure more post-secondary education opportunities locally, the one tangible thing that the county and cities have direct control over to help provide a better educated workforce is public libraries.

Since 1980 Stockton’s population has doubled yet a library hasn’t been added north of the Crosstown Freeway. The only new branch was the joint library facility opened at the Weston Ranch High campus in a partnership with the Manteca Unified School District.

In Manteca the commitment to libraries hasn’t fared much better.  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 almost 75,000 residents.

Manteca’s budget document for nearly a decade has listed a library expansion as being outside of its five year goals and carrying a price tag of $33 million. The city in the late 1990s collected a library fee assessed on new homes in the Heritage Ranch neighborhood generally south and east of Cowell School. Most of that money was used to hire a consultant who ultimately produced conceptual plans for a two-story library more than twice the current facility’s size at the same location.

Manteca twice sought state library bond funding but each time came up short. Despite talk by elected officials about how important the library was to strengthen Manteca’s overall education and quality of life as well as being a key recreation and cultural component, efforts to secure additional library space ended in 2002.


Hernandez proposal to

make new libraries

priority for Manteca

didn’t move forward

Thirteen months ago Councilman Vince Hernandez attempted to make library expansion a priority again. 

That, however, didn’t mean the Manteca City Council member wanted to see the proposal for a $33 million “main” library expansion on Center Street dusted off — far from it.

Instead he preferred to see smaller branch libraries placed around Manteca to make them more accessible.

Hernandez during the budget hearings in the spring and early summer of 2015 pushed to include library facilities in future spending documents as part of the five-year capital improvement plan. The first budget since then was passed last month without identifying more library space as a five-year capital improvement project.

Advocates of the multiple library plan have noted they believed the most effective library facilities would be smaller branches placed south of the 120 Bypass and in north Manteca along with a moderate expansion and modernization of the “main” branch library in Manteca.

Not only is the 120 Bypass seen as a major barrier for youth accessing the library but growth patterns indicate by 2040 almost 60 percent of Manteca’s residents will reside south of the freeway.

There has been some talk of working with Manteca Unified to possibly build a joint use library at the future high school planned for Tinnin Road similar to what is in place at the Weston Ranch High campus in South Stockton. However, such talks have never made it to an actual council meeting to consider such a move as a viable option for the city.

Other communities such as Stockton and Lathrop have built branch libraries as part of structures that provide other functions such as a community center or — in Lathrop’s case — a teen center.

Advocates have pointed out library services have evolved with the times meaning that there isn’t a need to have massive book stacks to make branch libraries function effectively to increase community literacy, knowledge, help improve the economic lot of individuals and for use as a recreation facility for reading and other endeavors.

Such smaller branches could carry an annual cost to operate and maintain of $450,000 according to information obtained from the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System.

Manteca essentially provides the building and covers the maintenance costs including utilities. They also make a small contribution to the books fund for the Manteca branch collection as well as provide funding for staffing hours beyond what the county and City of Stockton underwrite.

“We’ve done a good job of providing a proliferation of parks, Hernandez said in 2015. “We need to take care of the intellectual side of the equation.”


Manteca spends

6.5 times more for

recreation than libraries

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 13 libraries countywide. Today there are just 49 staff workers and the Caesar Chavez Main Library in Stockton is closed on Saturdays.

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.”

Today San Joaquin County libraries are fifth from rock bottom in California when it comes to staffing per thousand residents. The local system has one employee for every 11,638 residents the system serves compared to the state median of 3,429.

Stronger Libraries = Stronger communities notes the California per capita spending for libraries is $47 and for recreation is $127.

uIn Manteca it is $15 for libraries and $97 for recreation.

uIn Stockton it is $15 for libraries and $33 for recreation.

uIn Tracy it is $15 for libraries and $99 for recreation.

uIn Modesto it is $17 for libraries and $40 for recreation.

uIn Fresno it is $26 for libraries and $39 for recreation.

uIn San Jose it is $35 for libraries and $127 for recreation.

uIn Santa Clara it is $82 for libraries and $125 for recreation.

Additional information on the community-based library advocacy effort can be found at


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email