Bruce Maiman

How much is local library worth to Loomis?

Placer County is considering closing the Loomis library branch in part because many residents use the Rocklin branch instead.
Placer County is considering closing the Loomis library branch in part because many residents use the Rocklin branch instead. Sacramento Bee file

The fate of the Loomis library remains uncertain, but a proposal to close it raises questions about government, community and even the future of libraries themselves.

Placer County has 11 library branches. Its analysis indicates two things. First, property tax revenues, the prime funding source, h4aven’t risen fast enough to make up for years of recessionary budget deficits. Second, there isn’t enough traffic to justify keeping the Loomis branch open. Indeed, more Loomis residents are using the Rocklin branch down the road.

A second branch, Meadow Vista, is also targeted for closure, but only in Loomis have residents raised a ruckus, enough to force county supervisors to delay last week’s vote to close the branch and instead hold a public meeting Tuesday to discuss alternatives to keep it open.

Shutting the branch was a heartbreaking but practical recommendation for Placer Library Services Director Mary George. “The entire system suffers by spreading ourselves too thin,” she told me. “Keep the branches open and all the libraries suffer. Close idle branches and the others can survive and stay healthy.”

That sounds like a business decision. Aren’t we always whining that government needs to act more like business?

Others, however, might say governments aren’t in business to make a profit. They do, however, have to yield to fiscal realities.

Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes uses this analogy: “If you have 5 acres of peach trees and only enough water for 3, do you spread the water on 5 acres and get a poor crop, or get the best out of the 3 acres?”

Now, Facebook posts shout: “Don’t let them close our library!” But how supportive have Loomis residents been if they haven’t been using the library enough to justify keeping it open?

“The town has somewhat ignored the library,” said Jan Chimera, secretary for the Friends of the Loomis Library. “We took for granted the county doing its thing. Now that the library’s in danger, the town’s paying attention.”

Indeed. Residents packed a town council meeting last month, and Chimera says a petition to save the library has gathered 2,500 signatures. Therein is a possible solution.

The county says it costs $250,000 a year to operate the library. If everyone who signed that petition donated $100, that’d cover it.

Or Loomis could follow Sacramento’s lead. Last year, to support their library system, 73 percent of Sacramento voters approved the extension of a 2004 parcel tax. Loomis has around 7,000 residents. A tax of $35 a year would raise enough.

If Loomis residents don’t trust how the county allocates funding – a common local complaint – all the more reason to do it themselves.

But the controversy also highlights other challenges. Loomis loves its small-town vibe. I like it, too, but the price for its slow-growth policy is that it can’t always get the services larger communities can afford.

There is also a larger question about the future of libraries in the face of increasing digitization. Tellingly, most of the people at the council meeting grew up with print books, not e-books, and with card catalogs, not computer searches. This isn’t your grandfather’s library anymore; what it will be in 50 years is anyone’s guess.

Libraries are great storehouses of knowledge, and the expertise of librarians is invaluable. However, I won’t be surprised if the libraries of my youth vanish in my own child’s lifetime. That’s disconcerting. Today’s students may need library services more than any other generation. They can find anything they want online but lack the knowledge to sort good content from bad. That’s where the skills a good library can help build become indispensable.

Yet I’m reminded of the words of Edward Morrow, past president of the Association of American Publishers, who said, “For every reader who dies today, a viewer is born.” That was 1995.

I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t the real fear driving some of these folks in Loomis.

Bruce Maiman regularly fills in as a host on KFBK radio and lives in Rocklin. Contact him at brucemaiman@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Maimzini.

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