Save our libraries

Supervisors should let citizens vote to do so

Beginning this Saturday (April 18), anyone who wants to visit one of the six Butte County Library branches would be wise to check first whether it’s open. Chances are it won’t be.

That’s especially true in Biggs and Durham, whose libraries will be open only one day a week, for six hours. Six hours! That’s not a library, it’s a book-lending pit stop. And if the six hours don’t fit your schedule, forget it. You have no library.

The situation will be only slightly better in Paradise, Gridley and Oroville, whose branches will be open only 24 to 30 hours weekly. And don’t expect much in the way of service while you’re there: Staff cutbacks have destroyed such offerings as Storytime and professional research assistance.

And the cutting isn’t over. The county will be taking another $4 million from the overall budget in May, and the budget proposed for the library will result in a 71 percent reduction in county-funded hours, from 219 per week to just 60—12 hours in Chico, Paradise, Oroville and Gridley (with Biggs and Durham hovering at six).

Perhaps we’re old-fashioned, but we believe libraries are fundamental to our democracy, as important as any other service government provides.

Butte County residents visit the libraries more than 800,000 times a year, making them the most widely used service the county provides. And in this time of economic difficulty, more and more folks are using library computers to look for jobs or apply for assistance.

Whenever the county’s budget tightens, it seems, the libraries are the first to be cut. Four times in the past 30 years, the library budget has been devastated, in some cases to the point of branch closure.

In December 2005, former Chico City Manager Fred Davis went before the county Board of Supervisors to plead for stable funding of the libraries. He urged the supervisors to put an eighth-cent sales tax hike on the ballot. But a board majority wasn’t willing even to allow voters to decide for themselves, nixing the idea.

It’s time to revisit the idea of a dedicated revenue source for the libraries. Nobody likes taxes, but we all understand they are the price we pay for living in a democracy. The supervisors should let the people decide.