Closing The Book On A Ventura Library

books.jpgStacks of books sit on a cart waiting to be re-shelved. A black and white sweater hangs neatly on the back of a chair, and fluorescent lights beam as though eagerly waiting to greet the day's first visitor. Except there hasn't been a visitor here in more than two months.

That's when the H.P. Wright Library in the city of Ventura shuttered its doors, one more victim to be added to the growing list of collateral damage created by the economic downturn.

Long one of the area's most-frequented libraries, it was unable to survive the city's $11 million in budget slashes, the county's reduced property tax revenue, and the state's severe cuts to library funding. To add insult to injury, even the local voters refused to fund H.P Wright when offered a chance via a recent ballot measure.

Ventura County's Public Library Foundation funds have been cut by 79 percent in the last 10 years, according to the California State Library. It's a slow motion collapse that began in the days of the Gray Davis administration and has recently accelerated.

"That says something about our commitment to kids, to books, to seniors, to job hunters, to our communities, and I think we are going to pay a huge price for it," said Ventura County Library Director, Jackie Griffin.

Two other libraries continue operating in the city of Ventura, which is still one more than the other cities in the county. So, H.P. Wright's closure might seem insignificant. But as the third most-visited library in the county system, concerned residents said its closure marks a painful and disproportionate loss.

Especially for Maureen Byrne and her three children, who have made visits to the neighborhood library routine stops in their weekly schedule.

"That was his favorite thing to do after school," said Maureen of her 12-year-old son Paul. "He would get his books. We would do his homework. It was so accessible."

When news of H.P. Wright's closure circulated in early 2009, it spurred a fund-raising campaign by the San Buenaventura's Friends of the Library. Byrnes was just one worried citizen among many who jumped on board. The group raised a hefty $120,000, which kept the library open an additional five months, said San Buenaventura Friends of the Library Vice President, Berta Steele.

The group's intention was to keep the library operating until a permanent funding solution arose, said Steele. Measure A, the city's half-cent sales tax increase that appeared on the November 2009 ballot, was one attempt to get additional money to fund H.P. Wright on a permanent basis, but it failed, only receiving 44 percent of the vote. The balloting forced economically-pressed voters to either save an important local institution or save themselves from a tax increase. They chose the latter and the library closed.

Now, it has been over two months since Byrne and her three children have visited a public library.

Unlike H.P. Wright, the other libraries are not on the way home from school, said Byrne. They're not easily accessible to a large portion of Ventura with a high population of children.

Now H.P. Wright patrons, many of whom were among Ventura's eastside residents, will have to manage the four-mile drive downtown to the E.P. Foster library. But the real concern is for those who will be unable to access any library, especially during financially tough times.

"When families don't have enough money for entertainment, the library provides programs, books and movies," said Griffin.

"There's a terrible irony that one of the most important services that we have in an economically hard time is one that's most devastatingly cut," said Griffin.

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What does it say about us a society if we won't fund our libraries? Ugh.

There is just enough inaccuracy and biased slant in this article to make me embarrassed for KCET. I know the writer had access to those who would argue with the figures, the excuses and convenient scapegoat: the economy. But she chose to ignore what she was told.

The too cute title Closing the Book...speaks to the rigidity of those in power here who will not listen to the very reasonable, tried-and-true, alternatives.

Some of us are making a Herculean effort to wrench apart those covers and re-open this historical accessible safe library that catered so beautifully to children, the elderly and those not living near downtown nor desiring to navigate the limited parking.

I am reminded of the alligator who can apply thousands of pounds of pressure to close his mouth around his prey and then it only takes a human hand to keep it closed, but nothing much can be done to open it with normal human effort.

Also, don't blame the residents who voted 44percent for a minor tax increase. In fact, the 44percent is a large outpouring under the circumstances. Most had no clue what measure A was about and many suspected misuse of funds in advance. The measure was poorly advertised and minimally promoted and unclear overall.

KCET, next time tell the whole story not just one side. Thank you.

A couple of facts for KCET:

For many of us who live on the east end the trek to the remaining library is an 8 mile drive - not just a 4 mile one.

Also, there are other cities within the county which have more than one library.

As a long time KCET viewer and supporter, I am surprised and dismayed to see such biased reporting. I, too, know that this writer was made aware of pertinent information that she chose not to investigate.