Sacramento libraries plan to boost services after voters approved new tax

For the first time in years, the Sacramento Public Library isn’t trying to figure out how to do more with less.

Voters in the city of Sacramento earlier this month affirmed their support for public libraries by approving Measure B, a $12 annual tax on single-family homes in the city. The measure’s passage will provide city libraries with $1.9 million in additional funding for library staffing, operating hours, materials and technology. The tax will increase up to 3 percent each year based on inflation, and will sunset after 12 years.

“A ‘no’ vote would have meant planning for (library) closures,” said Rivkah Sass, Sacramento Public Library Director. “I’m just thrilled that we get to keep all of our 12 libraries open and even get to think about, dream about, expanding our services.”

Despite the rise of digital media, which has crippled the book business, the number of people who visited the city libraries rose 11 percent from 2008 to 2013. The number of cardholders jumped 30 percent, the number of programs rose 78 percent, and program attendance rose 86 percent.

Funding dropped 14 percent during the same period.

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been,” Sass said. “(People) want to connect with one another. We’re truly a community center.”

The library’s e-book program, the 3M Cloud Library, is one of the busiest library e-book services in the country, Sass said, and the number of e-books in its collection may grow with the money from Measure B.

Sass also hopes to expand the library’s digital services, which now include 3-D printers and computers equipped with Photoshop software.

“Those are some services that will be enhanced,” Sass said. “We’re definitely looking at what we can offer to people technologically.”

The money from Measure B will begin to flow to the libraries in January 2015, and the summer and fall will be spent determining the best way to spend it.

“We hope to see improvements to library collections; additional books, e-books, those kinds of resources,” Sass said. “We see ourselves looking at what kinds of things will make a difference to people.”

Getting more books for all the libraries will be a priority, Sass said, especially children’s books.

“Our children’s books are old; they’re out of date,” she said. “So this will allow us to look at all library collections.”

The library was previously forced to cut back hours of operation in its branches due to a lack of funds, said Jeff Rubin, president of Friends of Sacramento Public Library. Some of those hours may be restored next year.

“As a public operation, they’ve done an incredible job managing with the amount of resources they’ve had available to them,” Rubin said. “They’ll be trying to restore some of the hours that had been cut.”

Karen Thomas, campaign coordinator for Measure B, said she found that people generally support the public library, even though the measure would increase taxes.

“I think people in general really do value libraries,” Thomas said. “I know it was a low voter turnout overall, but I think we turned out a lot of library supporters.”

Some library users didn’t even know about Measure B, but welcomed its passage nonetheless. Cruz Martinez, a junior at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, visits Martin Luther King Jr. library in south Sacramento once a week to pick up movies, novels or biographies of his favorite rock stars.

“It’s a good place to get away, you know, from the streets,” said Martinez, who arrived at the library one recent weekday afternoon on his skateboard. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the older branches slated for potential closure before Measure B passed.

If his library branch had closed, Martinez said, “it would be sad for kids who like writing to lose that inspiration.”

Call The Bee’s Will Wright, (916) 321-1212.

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