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Save Bike-able, Walkable Local Libraries, no matter how broke we think we are

January 24, 2009

wrightThe other day, I read Ventura City Manager Rick Cole’s blog entry arguing for the closure of the HP Wright Library on the east end of town:

Here’s the case. Wright is going away anyway. It is on the campus of a college that recently built a $40 million “learning center” — a high tech library geared to its students, but open to the general public. Foster Library Downtown is underutilized. Avenue is a dinky Library and is funded largely by Federal funds earmarked for aiding low-income neighborhoods. So the long term answer could be to build a new “state of the art” library like the new Camarillo facility. Closing Wright saves the other libraries in the system from further shaving hours and makes the most efficient use of the existing staff.

In his post, he makes several well made and sensible arguments, and I considered his position–he’s between the famous rock and a hard place trying to fund the city’s priorities on limited budget funds, a budget that’s been cut as close to the quick as can be imagined, and so the cut off of library services to a facility next to a college with a state of the art library when HP Wright is an outdated library in a  building due to lose its lease in a few years makes some sense.

BUT it’s not even the City’s decision to make–it’s the County Library system that will make the cuts, although no doubt they will listen to the City, and if the City was in a better position fiscally, it could lend a hand or a few bucks.

Members of the community are outraged over the potential closing of Wright and the perceived sense that the City is lobbying to have it closed. They have expressed their displeasure in the Ventura County Star; they are trying to drum up support and to get people to attend at Monday’s City Council meeting where the County Librarian will speak. I may go. And if I do, this is what I might say:

When I was 4, my parents, my brother, 3,  and sister, 1,  and I plus my father’s teenaged sister lived in midtown Ventura in a rental house on Borchard. My father was too proud to take government help, but we were eligible I am sure.

My father and mother are readers, and growing up,  library books were our main source of entertainment. While I have no memories of having books of my own, a library Bookmobile stopped regularly at the Borchard shopping center and I remember my mother gathering us three and a pile of library books to return. I can see and smell the inside of the Bookmobile right now–the magical idea of a vehicle crammed full of books, the narrow aisles with the dust caught in the light of the open door, the friendly librarian, the special ordered books. We always had plenty to read around the house. The Bookmobile was the only library I knew at that age.

When I was 5, somehow my parents, with the help of their parents, scraped together a down payment for 3 bedroom, 2 bath house on the east end in a small neighborhood called Morningside squished between the major thoroughfares of Victoria and Telegraph and surrounded by an elementary school, a junior high and a high school. The college and the Wright library were only a mile down Telegraph. My father slept confidently at night knowing his three children would stay close to home and educated for a long time.

Most of the time, we only had one car, and my dad used that to commute to LA where he worked as a plumber when there was work. The mile to the library was much more of a trek for my mother than around the corner to the Bookmobile, and at 5 I was too big for the wagon of books and siblings so I had to walk the mile back and forth alongside. If I wanted books to read, this is what it took to get them so we did it more often than you can imagine.

There is much talk in this town about making it walkable. I am involved with VCCOOL’s bike pod, dedicated to developing a healthy bike culture in town. The majority of the town’s population lives within a level mile or two of HP Wright library and many schools are nearby. Most of the town’s population could walk or ride a bike easily to this library.

So I ask myself: if I was in my mother’s shoes, with 3 small children and no car, what would I do?

Would I drag my wagon full of kids and books past Wright library another half mile or so onto the college campus, take the elevator up 2 flights, and look for books? Feeling out of place the whole time?

Would I ride a bike with a child in a seat and two in a trailer to get to the library?

Would I pack up the books and the kids and take the bus, transferring us all at the Mall, all the way downtown  another 4 miles to the Foster Library?

If I had a car,  would I be willing to pay $1 to search for one of the limited parking spots on campus? Or would I circle the neighborhood, looking for a close enough place to park then wrangle the stroller and books and kids?

Not likely. No. Not likely. Only if desperate.

It is hard for me to imagine doing so, and certainly, knowing my mom, it would have been close to impossible, for many reasons, not just the logistical ones outlined above. Ask yourself: would you? would you bother going to the library under these circumstances?

The college’s beautiful new library is an incredible place, with its large, relaxing viewful and underutilized periodical room and with its tables and computers crowded with students,  but it provides its community of faculty and students with different kinds of books and resources than HP Wright. Because of several grants and because of its child development program, the library has an unusually sizable selection of children’s books. But the library doesn’t have a big enough budget to supply the academic books and resources students and faculty need, much less to provide the kinds of books the general population desires; in fact, I have heard rumours about the college library’s hours being decimated, even that it might close completely in the evenings.

We are in a crisis situation, throughout the United States, not just in Ventura. This is a time when we NEED our local libraries, we need to be able to walk and ride to them, we need them to sustain us now more then ever.

Burning Man Bookmobile by nathanpurkiss81391Money could be saved by cutting down on the periodicals at the three branches (of which there are plenty at the college), and money could be made by turning the Foster periodical room, with its wonderful street and ocean views, into a cafe serving coffee, poetry, and acoustic music with local art hung on the walls, the kind of place we are sorely lacking in the current downtown configuration.

We will only be poorer if we close libraries down in this fiscal crisis. Keep them open. Find a way to maintain hours at HP Wright until we have an east end alternative that is not the college library or a storefront in Midtown’s Mall. And let’s bring back the Bookmobile while we’re at it! Afterall, if one can be at Burning Man –as pictured–one could be anywhere!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2009 11:20 pm

    They could save money by paying the politicians less.

  2. January 27, 2009 12:48 am

    good idea except i don’t think they get all that much around here, at least not our local gov’t employees or elected officials..

    Bill Fulton, one of our city council members, goes over the situation thoroughly on his blog in this post:

  3. January 27, 2009 1:38 am

    Thoughtful observations. The is an obvious need for places within walking/biking distance that offer civic resources that benefit families and seniors. It might be a library, it might be a school, it might be a computer lab, it might be community meeting room, it might be a tutoring center, it might be an after-school enrichment program — or it might be some combination of all of the above. But all these things cost money and obviously we can’t afford to provide all these things in every neighborhood. So should we be taking a harder look at combining uses?

    For example, the Community College Library is not as ideal a library for non-academic uses, as art predator notes. But could it be made much more compatible? Do we need one brand new $40 million college library a stone’s throw from a community library? Or can there be a win-win?

    I love libraries, use libraries and have spent a lifetime supporting libraries. Precisely because of this, we need to think hard about the future of libraries. In the information age, the function of libraries is even more vital — but the form of libraries obviously needs to be re-examined. I asked the Ventura City Council to allocate $100,000 to fund a comprehensive community planning effort for the future of libraries in our city. But as we cut our budget last spring, this had to be postponed. Now we find the future is here — with the County library director recommending Wright be closed. As with any crisis, this is both a danger and an opportunity. It forces us to think hard about what kind of libraries we need — and how we can pay for and support them.

    Rick Cole
    City Manager
    City of Ventura

  4. January 27, 2009 7:15 pm

    Thank you Rick, for dropping in and participating in the discussion. I agree whole heartedly that any crisis presents a problem and an opportunity. There is quite a need on the east end for community services like the ones you mention just as there is a need downtown for a community gathering place like I bring up.

    I just hope that maintaining the goal of having walkable, bikeable communities doens’t get lost in the flurry of cost cutting.

  5. Lucinda permalink
    February 8, 2009 12:50 am

    I am interested in helping out with the fundraising to keep Wright open until we can get started on a new library. The bottom line is, Wright will eventually have to close, but I would prefer to keep it open until the lease expires in ’15.

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