(May 3, 2005) Hear the audio version

When the Salinas City Council voted to close its three public libraries after tax measures failed in November, a firestorm of protest ignited. Shut down the libraries in John Steinbeck’s hometown? Why, that’d be like moving the Golden Gate Bridge to Lake Havasu! Libraries are the heart and soul of a community. And if Salinas, a city of 150,000, can close its libraries, then it could happen anywhere.

Libraries are as basic as tap water. They shouldn’t have to beg for funding, city by city, county by county, year to year, as they do now. Poor communities need libraries even more than wealthy ones – their residents depend on public libraries for books, computers, tutoring and other programs. The Cesar Chavez Public Library in Salinas has a popular after-school homework center. Board up the library, and you know where those kids will be left – the street. How dare we let that happen?

Well, thanks to an outpouring of public support and private donations to the Salinas libraries, it won’t – at least not this year. Cesar Chavez will remain open for a grand total of 10 hours a week. The library named after native son Steinbeck only eight. Eight hours??? I bet the Governor’s children don’t line up hoping for their library doors to open. So why should the child of a farmworker or a teacher? Is civic responsibility totally a thing of the past?

I sure hope not. I hope the situation in Salinas has sounded alarm bells heard by all. Programs necessary for a civil society demand adequate funding. California should make library funding a state priority along with schools and fire and police, and, I guess, prisons. These basic services should not have to rely on initiatives or special taxes or lobbying or bake sales for their very survival. The people of this state – citizens and immigrants – need our libraries to be open and thriving. Not just my library, but yours and hers and those 100 miles down 101.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.