Fight illiteracy with libraries

Jane Wise is a retired high-school principal for the San Juan Unified School District and president of the Friends of the Orangevale Library

Functional illiteracy is a problem in many communities, affecting more than 3 million English-speaking Californians. You may even know someone who has trouble reading or performing certain life skills: paying bills, understanding instructions on medicine bottles or comprehending workplace safety manuals.

Fighting illiteracy starts early in life, and public libraries have been essential partners with our schools in dealing with this problem. Public libraries offer reading programs for young children and literacy services for adults and families that complement the formal education system. Together, schools and public libraries work to help break a cycle that can persist across generations.

Unfortunately, in this era of dwindling local resources, libraries are struggling.

In particular, Orangevale Library’s 94-year history depicts a community that has been underserved since the library’s inception. It has never had a permanent home. And Elk Grove needs a large facility to serve its burgeoning population.

This is where Proposition 81, which goes before voters in June, can make a difference.

Proposition 81 is a $600 million statewide bond to fund library construction, repair and renovation. The measure helps build new libraries and improve existing ones, with no new taxes.

By combining a 65-percent state match with 35-percent locally generated funds, Proposition 81 will result in nearly $900 million being spent in local communities, on projects that local community leaders have deemed necessary to help maintain a vital community asset. In Orangevale, the state will be providing nearly $6 million, and the county will provide the remainder. Half of the statewide $600 million is specified to be expended on projects from the last round of applications, which were rated highly but abandoned because the funds ran out. Orangevale’s application falls within that group, as does Elk Grove’s; both were awarded the highest rating.

The Orangevale library is planned for a location just north of the Community Center on Hazel Avenue. It will provide an additional safe place for children to go after school. While helping to fight illiteracy and contributing to a quality education, this library will be an important resource for people needing assistance, instruction or free access to computers or high-speed Internet.

That’s why organizations all over the state are urging you to fight illiteracy and build community libraries with a “yes” vote on Proposition 81.