Dunsmuir resident Tim Holt says the dismissal of his proposed agenda item to consider more funding for libraries in Siskiyou County makes it clear "that libraries and their supporters are still the ugly stepchildren of the county system."
In Weed, a library is struggling to recover from a devastating fire. Here in Dunsmuir we’re regrouping after the State Board of Equalization disqualified a ballot measure, passed with a 62 percent majority vote, that would have provided additional funds for our library.
Many of our branch libraries are being kept open with volunteers – and that includes even our largest library in Yreka – after major cuts were made in their funding by the county six years ago.
This situation should not be allowed to become the “new normal,” but it will without a considerable effort by library supporters to change county policy. We need to raise the status of our libraries from that of the half-starved stepchildren of the county system. If there’s any hope for our libraries it has to come from grassroots support.
The reason we have any funding at all from the county for libraries is that library supporters showed up en masse in Yreka when the county wanted to shut the library system down altogether. Since then there have been considerable efforts by these same people and their allies to keep our libraries open through volunteer work, fundraising efforts, grant applications, and support for local ballot measures.
To get things moving in a more positive direction at the county level, I recently submitted an agenda item to the Board of Supervisors that would have drawn $72,000 from the county’s half-million-dollar Provisional Fund and distributed it among our branch libraries, at $6,000 per library, to be used for staffing or whatever needs each library deemed a priority. This would have restored only a small portion of the funds cut six years ago.
Judging from the reaction of county officials, you would have thought I was tampering with the Ten Commandments. They are rigid in their insistence that the county will not grant funds that might go to pay any staff in branch libraries. (I wonder if county officials would like to try staffing their offices with volunteers.)
Six years ago the cash-strapped county adopted a “framework” for county libraries that funds only four staff positions, all of them in the central office in Yreka, and provides basic countywide services, a “backbone,” that includes circulation of books among the branch libraries.
I was informed by a county administrative staffer, in no uncertain terms, that my proposal for additional library funding would not be put on the Supervisors’ agenda for discussion because it conflicts with the policy adopted six years ago.
That argument doesn’t hold any more water than a leaky bucket. Policies can be changed any time by a three-vote majority of the Supervisors, if they’re willing to listen to arguments on the other side. But that’s not the main point.
It’s clear from the dismissal of my proposed agenda item that libraries and their supporters are still the ugly stepchildren of the county system.
It would only be fair to note that the Supervisors have in the last few years approved modest increases in the library budget, to buy more books and improve computer services.
The current county library budget is about 13 percent larger than the previous year’s. But overall, the library’s budget is still about half what it was six years ago.
You sometimes hear comments to the effect that Siskiyou County is a place more comfortable with guns and pickups than things like books and reading and education. I don’t buy that one either.
You can have all of those, that’s what our Founding Fathers believed (if you substitute horse drawn wagons for pickups), especially if you want a solid, informed electorate and a healthy representative democracy.
I’ll go even further: Judging by the support for our libraries over the past six years, it’s pretty clear that it’s the citizens who are leading, or at least attempting to lead, and the top tier at county government who are dragging their feet.
• Tim Holt is a journalist and longtime library supporter who lives in Dunsmuir.