News from Salinas: National/State leaders support local effortsIn his December 14, 2004 report to the Salinas City Council, Salinas City Manager Dave Mora listed “a weak economy” and “state and county raids on local revenues” as the top reasons for Salinas’ $9.2 million deficit-the casualty of which is Salinas’ libraries.
The city of Salinas tried to raise some of the $9.2 million that would keep the libraries open and other city services intact by putting a Salinas city sales tax (Measure A) and a large utility users tax (Measure B) on the November 2004 ballot. The measures failed. Salinas had to “reduce expenditures”–close the libraries.
Salinas’ struggle has caught the nation’s eye. Two of the libraries closing, the Caesar Chavez Library and the John Steinbeck Library, are named for the region’s most articulate champions of the oppressed, an irony that, sadly, makes a good story.
Action Plan Formulated at ALA Mid-Winter Meeting
The Salinas closures go against the grain of American Library Association (ALA) policy that “free access to the books, ideas, resources, and information in America’s libraries is imperative for education, employment, enjoyment and self-government'.” State Librarian Susan Hildreth reports that at the ALA midwinter meeting in Boston, participants discussed the Salinas closures at length before approving an ALA governing council resolution directing the ALA president to convey ALA’s concern to elected officials in Salinas. Following that meeting, the ALA Executive Board requested that ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman, Library Director at CSU Fresno, lead a delegation to visit Salinas and offer assistance. Also, ALA leaders have begun to develop an action plan to facilitate ALA’s actions and support when similar situations arise.
On Wednesday February 23, 2005, ALA’s concerns were personally voiced in Salinas. A delegation of ALA and California Library Association (CLA) leaders and Susan Hildreth spent the day in Salinas meeting with civic officials and concerned citizens. The delegation’s goal was, according to Michael Gorman, “to consult with all interested parties and to start a process of helping through advice, information, and support.”
Susan Hildreth and CLA President Danis Kreimeier report the February visit was a resounding success. Susan Hildreth says, “We were graciously welcomed by everyone in Salinas; and the reality of national and state interest in their community boosted the widespread efforts to keep libraries alive in Salinas.”
Salinas’s dignitaries, Mayor Anna Caballero, City Manager Dave Mora, Assistant City Manager Jorge Rifa Salinas City Council members and staff, and community and business leaders, greeted the delegation with well-researched materials and a fast-paced agenda for the day.
At an early afternoon private City Hall meeting, Jorge Rifa gave the delegation an overview of Salinas’ budget history and demographics. Hildreth says that Rifa’s “devastating” numbers clarified how the budget has trapped the City’s leaders with few choices for keeping Salinas afloat. Hildreth and the others also learned that City Manager Mora is understandably dedicated to public safety–to protecting Salinas’s police force.
At a subsequent meeting that included business leaders, Mayor Caballero, City Council members, and Rally Salinas! supporters, the delegation received an overview of the political scene in Salinas and Monterey County and participated in enthusiastic discussions of strategic planning for future initiatives.
That evening the delegation was welcomed at the meeting of the grass roots initiative Save Salinas Libraries. Kreimeier and Hildreth were heartened to see that more than 100 local activists were already organizing into task forces that will create informed public relations and fundraising plans for public support for funding the libraries.
Delegation Day Outcomes
The library leaders saw first hand February 23rd that Salinas’s library activists need help continuing to emphasize the value of libraries to the people of Salinas. Friends of the Salinas Library (FOSPL) President Lynn Steele explains that many people in Salinas “don’t grasp that a library is more than a place to check-out books and use the Internet.” Salinas’s activists, Steele says, “must induce voters to approve another ballot measure,” but, she adds, they lack the persuasive data.
Salinas requires factual fuel, the statistics, studies, and rhetoric to convince Salinas taxpayers that libraries increase property values, and that illiteracy connects to crime. The CSL, the ALA and the CLA will supply that fuel.
Hildreth, Gorman, and Kreimeier will be what Kreimeier calls “informational resources” to Salinas. They will not only share persuasive language and research on the sociological, economic, and educational benefits of libraries but also the names of people who can help bring about a successful tax initiative. Hildreth, for example, has provided both FOSPL’s Lynn Stark and Jorge Rifa a list of library polling specialists who can help define criteria for a new measure. “We need that polling data,” says Steele.
Meanwhile, library programs consultants at the CSL are providing consulting services and technical assistance to the Salinas libraries. The CSL is working with the city of Salinas and the library to maintain literacy programs and funding. It is also working with partners in the city to provide homework assistance.
Next Steps for Salinas
Kreimeier points out that Salinas’s literacy program was one of the original state-funded literacy programs over 20 years ago. She says probably everyone in Salinas knows someone, a tutor or a learner, who has been touched by literacy services. If Salinas can tap into that power, Kreimeier suggests, it would “personalize” the budget crisis for the community.
Susan Hildreth is speaking to the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce on March 29. She will argue for not only the moneymaking value of libraries, but also for the library’s critical contributions to literacy and youth development that make communities strong.
On March 3, 2005 the Salinas City Council voted 6-0 to leave Salinas’s libraries open on a skeleton schedule. Under the new plan, contingent on Salinas’s activists raising $500,000 by June 20, Salinas’s libraries will be open two days a week for five hours a day through December.
In an article posted March 11, 2005 in the ALA’s American Libraries Online, Susan Hildreth said of the City Council’s decision that she thinks“ it’s just marvelous that they [Salinas leaders] are committed to keeping this library system open in some way or another.” “There is so much community activity on many different levels to try to define a permanent or more stable funding source for the library,” Hildreth concluded.