The Tracy Branch Library was bustling this week, with nearly every chair occupied and a line at the checkout — as it will be through Tuesday, before the doors close until Jan. 5.
The irony of a bad economy is that as it gets worse and cuts are proposed, public library services become more and more in demand. People can’t afford to buy books and DVDs or pay for Internet connections, and as the ranks of the laid-off grow, people are flocking to the job databases.
And so it is at our little library on Eaton Avenue, where foot traffic increased 23 percent between July and October from the year before.
The first blow hit before Thanksgiving, when the city of Stockton decided to put its library employees on a furlough and close its own five branches and the eight it staffs throughout the county — including Tracy and Mountain House — over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That riled Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, who represents us. He figured Stockton had overstepped itself by making cuts to other towns as a way to address its own $23.5 million budget deficit.
To make matters worse, he predicted, with the decline of property tax revenues, the library could face even more shortfalls from the county’s budget next year.
The Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library system’s budget is divided roughly in half between the city of Stockton and the county, with Tracy contributing its 17,000-square-foot building, maintenance and about $67,000 a year to keep the library open 17 hours longer than the contracted 35 hours a week that Stockton covers.
That brings us to this week’s blow to the library — the report from the contractor charged with finding solutions to the city of Tracy’s projected $7.9 million deficit. Included in the list of cuts is a reduction of library funding to the tune of $70,000, which would wipe out those extra 17 hours a week Tracy’s library has stayed open since 2001.
Also at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, the library system director said county branch hours would be reinstated Jan. 5 but that the issue of reducing hours would be revisited in June.
Meanwhile, county policymakers directed their staff to examine the contract the county has with Stockton and to explore the idea of splitting the Stockton-San Joaquin library system.
It’s worth a look — to separate the county’s branches from Stockton — as is any effort to make sure our libraries don’t linger at the bottom of the budget barrel. After all, the public library is a bulwark of a strong democracy, one that deserves our advocacy and investment.
•From Jan. 5 through June 30, posted hours for the Tracy library, 20 E. Eaton Ave., are as follows:
1 to 5 p.m. Sundays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays; noon to 5 p.m. Fridays; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
• For Mountain House’s library, at 579 Wicklund Crossing:
Closed Sundays; 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays; closed Fridays.
What individuals can do
• Support the Friends of the Library by joining and buying books at its used book sale, which is open during library hours. The next Friends meeting is 7 p.m. Feb. 12 in the library’s Wadsworth Room. For information: Dave Aldis, 832-1464.
• Make a donation to the Buy a Book for the Library program, specifying the branch where the book would stay. Bright yellow brochures with details are at the library.
• Volunteer to help with library programs, book-shelving, clerical work, literacy tutoring and the Friends’ book sale.
• Use the library — and pay your fines, if you have any.
What he said
• "If it is right that schools should be maintained by the whole community for the well being of the whole, it is right also that libraries should be so maintained."
— Andrew Carnegie, 1904