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Supervisors take up groups’ efforts to restore library hours


Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday wrestled over how to avoid future funding and service disparities in the county’s library system while still enabling supporters of individual branches to dedicate extra support to their libraries.

The Sebastopol branch of the Sonoma County Library. (John Burgess / PD)

The Sebastopol branch of the Sonoma County Library. (John Burgess / PD)

The issue was one of several concerns that dominated a nearly two-hour discussion of proposed revisions to the joint powers agreement for the county library system.

The new agreement seeks to solve an ongoing controversy about reduced operating hours for the system. It would allow supporters to kick in the money needed to support expanded hours for their branch, covering all extra costs including labor, operations and maintenance.

Critics say the provision could lead to unequal services among the 13 branches, with wealthier communities much better suited to generate the additional funding.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane lambasted the proposal.

“It’s a social equity issue,” she said. “It will erode the heart of our library system.”

Supervisor Mike McGuire, who led a year-long discussion among city officials, library stakeholders and others about a new agreement, said it was a change sought especially by branch supporters in Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Petaluma.

Currently, local donations can pay for furniture, capital improvements, enhanced collections — everything but expanded hours, McGuire explained.

The change would allow advocates who’ve blasted the reduced hours, which closed all branches on Mondays, to do something about it through donations.

“There should be some independence in the library system to have some independent hours,” said Kristin Merrihew, a Santa Rosa resident who voiced support for the revision.

Under the new agreement, standard “core” hours would be the same for all branches. The board ultimately voted 4-1, with Zane in dissent, to endorse the change allowing additional hours for branches where supported by fundraising.

The board unanimously favored an additional seat for both the county and City of Santa Rosa on the revised library commission. That change would increase the new commission to 12 members, with one representative for each of the other eight cities.

The current commission has seven members, five county appointees and one each from Santa Rosa and Petaluma. The original signatories, along with the county, to the 1975 joint powers agreement were Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sonoma.

The draft agreement next goes to all nine city councils for their review. The presentations start Oct. 1 in Santa Rosa.

McGuire said he hopes to have new agreement in place by February.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

2 Responses to “Supervisors take up groups’ efforts to restore library hours”

  1. Kirstin says:

    The first duty of the library system is to serve the public adequately, and a 25% reduction in library hours does not meet that basic duty. It is unacceptable to have fully equipped library facilities closed on Mondays for years on end. Yet, the current library commission has thus far declined to seriously consider any options for opening the libraries again, and hasn’t even demanded a true and complete accounting of what it would cost to properly (but not extravagantly) staff those lost hours again.

    It is hoped that the new commission (however that looks) will attend to this matter as the priority it is, but, whether or not it does, there is no reason that individual libraries should be precluded from some autonomy regarding fundraising to improve their own libraries and reasonably extend hours. As has been stated numerous times, if a library does maintain different or longer hours from other libraries, any Sonoma resident is welcome to use that branch. No one is being excluded and being denied fair and equitable access.

    The Sonoma Library system further needs to look to more than tax dollars for funding. It needs to take advantage of possibilities for private sector funding partnerships (without conceding authority to such entities). Library management and the commission need to be creative and flexible in their approaches. Perhaps the new permanent director, when selected, will be able to champion this need.

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  2. Larry Watkins says:

    The whole library system needs to be reorganized and restructured. The Library Board needs to go. The Head Librarian needs to report to a specific manager, not a board of appointed or elected officials.

    The downtown Santa Rosa library has become a homeless shelter where the staff are fearful, the place is noisy with the homeless sleeping, shouting out and the bathroom a place you do not want to enter because of the smell.

    The library system needs a professional manager to run it, not a promoted staff member or recruited librarian from another state to “oversee” the operation.

    An accounting of where the library budget is being spent and how it is being spent needs to be done immediately and continuously and publically reported.

    The place needs a shakeup from top to bottom. A flower planted in a field of weeds will not make the garden look better. The Board of Supervisors need to do much more work and fix the fundamentals.

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