State librarian sees growth affecting libraries

California may be suffering from growing pains, but Dr. Kevin Starr, the state librarian of California, has the right prescription. Starr, who on June 19 made Paradise a stop on his tour of Butte County’s libraries, said that while the impending population growth could not be prevented, measures could be taken to strengthen local institutions.

“If you’re going to absorb this many people,” Starr said, “you have to have global institution strength. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I don’t want growth.’ All those people have to go someplace.”

Starr said the 2,000 libraries in the state of California are a very important part of community growth. Fortunately, he said, there has been no shortage of support or funds throughout the state.

“The library movement is alive and well,” Starr said. “We have a lot of federal funds; voters have been very generous.”

Starr said that Californians are particularly invested in the future of their state.

“I go a lot of places and [notice] how much Californians really care about where they’re from,” he said. “This resurgence of local patriotism is partly in anticipation for the kind of growth that’s going to come.”

Starr estimated that by 2040 California would have a population of more than 60 million people. Because of this tremendous spurt, he said, it is necessary to deal with cultural institutions while we still can.

“You can lose control of your culture if you can’t handle your growth problem,” Starr said. “It’s not just libraries. All local life has to be strengthened.”

T.E. Watson, a children’s book author and former teacher, who attended the speech, said that during his childhood libraries were open seven days a week. But with routine cutbacks on library hours and the proliferation of computers, times have changed, he said. “The Internet is never going to replace a book,” he said. “The most important asset any town has is the library.”