Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 1, 2004

Two passions combine

“With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of institutions because no one – but no one at all – can tell you what to read and when and how.” ~ Author Doris Lessing

March 2nd presents me with a rare opportunity to combine two of my passions – libraries and voting. I’m so inspired by the pairing that my front lawn sports my first-ever political yard sign: It proudly proclaims that I plan to vote yes on Measure B.

Measure B will replace the current $33.66 parcel tax that sunsets next year with a $42 per year parcel tax. The money raised by the parcel tax is used to pay for library operations: it covers the light bill, buys books, pays the modest salaries of librarians and clerks.

The current parcel tax was approved a decade ago, and the Santa Clara County Library system is now asking for an $8.34 increase, or roughly 24 percent over ten years. That’s less than a 2.25 percent increase each year – miserly even by Scrooge’s standards.

For comparison sake, that’s almost exactly on par with the increase in the Consumer Price Index from 1993 to 2003, and far less than the increase in government spending in almost any other sector.

There’s just no getting around the fact that our local library system is the best deal going in government. The Santa Clara County Library consistently wins awards as being one of the best libraries of its size in the country.

With your free library card you’ve got access to a fantastic collection of books, CDs, DVDs, and more. The library provides story times for children, summer reading programs for kids and teens, and access to important information to everyone in our community.

Need to know how to write a killer resume? How to fix your leaky faucet? Did your instructor just demand a research paper conforming to the MLA Handbook? Want to read a biography of Benjamin Franklin? Need the recipe for Death by Chocolate? The library is at your beck and call.

Or, maybe you’re just dying to read the latest best-seller – I just picked up a copy of John Grisham’s “The Last Juror” after a short wait.

It’s easy for those of us who are financially blessed to forget, but many people in our community can’t afford to pay $25 for “The DaVinci Code.” Lots of us have trouble paying the rent, so spending money buy a book on how to land a better job is out of the question, and paying a few dollars to rent a movie at Blockbuster tonight means not being able to put gas in the car tomorrow. How about a magazine or newspaper subscription? Well, maybe after buying the kids’ new shoes. And Internet access? That means buying a computer and paying a monthly fee to an Internet Service Provider. Not bloody likely if you’re having trouble paying the folks at PG&E.

That $8.34 per single-family parcel buys access to information resources so vast, it’s impossible to calculate their value for thousands of people who otherwise would have to do without.

“Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.” ~ Historian and author Barbara W. Tuchman

If Measure B fails to earn the two-thirds majority it needs for approval, we’ll be seeing a lot more closed library doors. The library depends on the parcel tax for 21 percent of its funding. If Measure B fails, the library system is required to wait at least one year before placing another parcel tax measure before voters, meaning drastic cuts will be unavoidable.

We’ll see libraries cut hours – meaning they can open their doors, libraries will be much more crowded. Anyone who visits knows that both South County libraries are already overcrowded. Libraries will have to cut programs – perhaps the children’s story times, perhaps the summer reading programs. Worst of all, the library will purchase fewer books, magazines, computer programs and videos.

The library is asking for a miniscule $8.34 increase from homeowners each year. That’s an incredibly small amount to pay to ensure that all of our South County neighbors continue to have access to the invaluable stores of information at our local libraries.

Remember, all funds raised in Gilroy go to the Gilroy library, and all money raised in Morgan Hill heads to the Morgan Hill library. A small assessment increase means a huge investment in our community’s quality of life.

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” ~ Lady Bird Johnson

On March 2, celebrate the fusion of democracy and libraries. Vote yes on Measure B.


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