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Two decades in Manteca of broken promises regarding library
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You can’t — as they say — judge a book by its cover.
Since 1996 candidates in Manteca City Council elections have waxed eloquently about how critical up-to-date and expanded library services are to the economic and cultural well-being of the community.
Open the book once the posturing of the campaigns end at 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday in November in even years and you get empty pages or — if you prefer direct honesty — empty promises.
Most people would choke on the $33 million price tag bantered about in 2002 when Manteca made its last play for state library bond money. The proposed two-story remake of the existing library on Center Street was neither nimble, flexible enough, nor offered reasonable access for a growing and sprawling community. It was in the edifice notion of great city libraries built in the Carnegie era or during the past 20 years such as the Seattle Central Library that are as much concerned about making an outward statement as what happens within its walls.
The truth is simple. Manteca has squandered 20 years — if not more — that could have led to a reasonable expansion of library services by now.
To show how high of a priority having a library system in Manteca that catches up on lost ground and is able to serve growth, not one City Council has yet to place library facilities onto the five-year capital improvement list for Manteca.
And let’s be clear what being on that list means. It doesn’t assure additional library facilities will be built or secured within that time frame. It is simply a council directive to staff to start working toward additional library facilities.
One would think council members who as candidates talk a big game about libraries would at least go to the trouble of placing libraries on a “to do list” to keep in mind over a five-year horizon.
If they are scared by the $33 million price tag, they need to ignore the consultant the city made $160,000 richer 14 years ago and delineate a more practical approach. That would include satellite libraries and a modest expansion or remodel of the existing library.
It also should include exploring replicating the Manteca Unified-City of Stockton partnership at the Weston Ranch High campus that secured a combined library for school and community use. Doing so at the fourth comprehensive high school campus within Manteca’s city limits that will be built in the not-too-distant future along Tinnin Road south of the 120 Bypass looks like the most effective and efficient use of resources. Not only are the same taxpayers on the hook for school construction in Manteca as well as for city facilities but it is also the scenario that has the best chance of becoming a reality this century.
There are those who believe libraries are in their death throes. Back in 1996 there were more than a handful of Manteca residents who argued libraries would be obsolete by 2000 or shortly thereafter thanks to the expanding Internet.
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, rumors of the death of libraries has been greatly exaggerated.
Libraries are great gathering places for sharing knowledge and recreation given not everybody spends their leisure time trying to kick, hit or throw a ball.
But even more important they are great equalizers and provide doors that open opportunities.
In a community where 60 percent of the 23,500 students of the local public school system qualifies for free or reduced lunches it should be obvious that not everyone can afford a computer or Internet. It also is proof that limited resources for even working adults — either trying to enrich themselves or improve their lot in life — or to give their children access to the upward mobility using the ladder of knowledge is a stark reality.
The examples of how libraries impact lives for the better or endless. In Manteca they range from a working family man who can ill afford auto repair bills making use of the library’s auto repair manuals to do his own work to keep his car running so he can get to his job to legal immigrants taking advantage of English classes to become more engaged citizens. It also includes preschoolers being not just prepared for the classroom but being plugged into the joy of learning to teens finding healthy diversions as individuals and in group activities. And along the way seniors with limited resources as well as others can access the Internet, read periodicals, check out books — whether they are traditional, audio or electronic — as well as tap into a wealth of information and services the library provides a conduit to obtain.
The community based advocacy group for the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System has provided food for thought noting nationally there are more libraries than McDonald’s locations but in San Joaquin County Ronald McDonald outnumbers libraries almost 2 to 1.
If we are interested in reducing illiteracy, have a more skilled workforce, reducing the cost of government by making more people employable at better paying jobs, then the time has come to stop electing leaders that give lip service to the need to expand libraries just to secure votes.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.