By Bob Berkowitz
One of the things we all agree on is that the community library is in serious trouble both financially and structurally. The question on the minds of a lot of people is, "Can it continue to be a viable entity for very long?" In the last several weeks, many of the dedicated, hard working volunteers have quit, and most of the paid staff, including Library Director Patty Hector, also have left. When she left, she stated one of the reasons for her departure was "a lack of resources to properly run the facility."
Even before the recent rash of departures, there was a critical need for more volunteers, according to Barbara McDonald, a long time volunteer. Kelly Nolan, the acting library director, pointed out that the Klamath branch of the library was closed over the summer because it was unable to pay the workers. The Crescent City branch building needs a new roof, carpet and furniture and to compound the situation, she said that there is more than $100,000 in outstanding uncollected fines that are owed to the library.
The situation is so bad that one library board member has tendered her resignation citing the extreme stress of the position.
I believe that the library board has done all it can to make the library a viable entity. Two bond elections that almost passed were heartbreaking for many of us in Del Norte County. Now, the board has no choice but to decrease hours to the point that the library will be open only a few hours a week and may eventually be forced to close altogether.
I don't think that we, as a community, can stand by and let this happen, so I am proposing a radical solution. Just like a cancer that has gone beyond the point of minor surgery, this solution will be very invasive, but must be done if the patient has any hope of surviving.
The Daily Triplicate recently editorialized on the fact that cooperation would benefit the city and county ("Cooperation would benefit city, county," Feb. 7). While the editorial examined solutions that involve finding ways to make governments more efficient and finding ways to grow the local economy, I believe that those same principles need to be incorporated in saving our library.
Several years ago, state money was provided for the school district to build the new Educational Resource Center. This facility now houses a large library, 32 computer stations, a TV studio, audio production center and several meeting areas and classrooms. It was deliberately overbuilt to cover anticipated growth. Currently this building, located on Harding Street, is being underutilized.
Now may be the time for the community to come together and bring in the resources necessary to move the library to this facility. Many different entities could contribute to making the library a success.
There is the possibility that the school district could supply the location, while the city, county, First Five, College of the Redwoods the Rancherias and others could share their financial resources. By working together, we would be eligible for federal and state grants. By working together, staffing problems could be solved. By working together, facility problems like leaky roofs would no longer be a problem. By working together, we could look into ways to expand the service to outlying areas like Gasquet and Klamath.
Yes, the key is "working together."
We have been successful when we worked together to save the Wonder Bus. The Del Norte Unified School District, the County of Del Norte and First Five all found a way to combine their resources to enable the Wonder Bus to get on the road again serving kids, instead of being parked at the side of the road, mothballed.
The time to act is now, not when the library is out of business. Any time government entities change the way they do business, there are those who believe that others are treading on their turf and that somehow they will lose a part of their power.
Well, I say while I don't believe that's the case, what are the alternatives?
Either we find ways to work together and save the library or we may lose it for good.
So, where do we start? I would hope the library board would reach out to the other entities and open a dialogue about how we can be a part of the solution that will benefit all of us. If they fail to change the way they do business, or fail to reach out to community partners, then I am afraid they will fail all of us.