Editorial: Refreshing change for the county library

Sophia Serrano, 9, takes a moment to relax and read her free book she chose in 2012 during the annual holiday program presented by the Friends of the San Benito County Free Library.

It was refreshing to hear about the county library finally moving in a positive direction when it comes to community access, and a group of organized library supporters deserves credit for bringing attention to the problem.
County supervisors this month agreed to reopen the San Benito County Free Library from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. It offers a departure from the continued gloom and doom outlook related to the library after the recession and in the years following – and a contrast from the policy implemented in October 2012 to close the library entirely on the last day of the work and school week.
Libraries, unfortunately, are among a pool of government services often used as wedges in negotiations during tough fiscal times. Elected leaders perpetually project the library’s immense community value, but then use it as an emotional ploy in budget talks and ultimately devalue its benefit by limiting access. That is what county supervisors have done through the recession and its aftermath – until recently as a group of library supporters with Community Foundation for San Benito County started shining a light on its deficiencies and needs for the future.
One of the short-term deficiencies was the Friday schedule. As the advocacy group members have noted, there wasn’t much of a financial argument in favor of an all-out Friday closure considering the $550,000 annual cost of compensation for a limited crop of employees. Additionally, supporters started looking at the competition among regional libraries and pointed out that other communities have successfully implemented much broader volunteer support at libraries – requiring cooperation from unions ¬- to maximize cost efficiencies.
Getting the library open again on Fridays was a major short-term accomplishment – especially taking into account the county’s relatively high proportion of disadvantaged and at-risk students ¬- and offers momentum as outside library supporters continue looking at ways to improve its future.

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