With the money that she gets, librarian Connie Barrington has to pay the staff, pay the utility bills, the materials and the Internet services for four locations in Calipatria, Heber, Holtville and Salton City.
Currently, the Imperial County district serves all Imperial County except for the cities of El Centro, Calexico, Brawley and Imperial, which have their own city libraries.
“We’ve got a huge geographic area with smaller populations,” Barrington said.
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The county library system is a library tax district, which means the library gets a small percentage of the property tax raised in the district.
But before the library sees that money, the county treasurer takes off a certain amount for the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund, which goes to schools.
Barrington expressed frustration at the thought that for the purpose of the ERAF, libraries are not considered educational institutions. The ERAF takes away about half of the property tax money we get, she said.
“I think we are the only lifelong learning institution,” Barrington said.
This year, the Imperial County library has an approved budget of $444,000. Of that money, $298,500 is from taxes, they have about $20,000 in grants and community donations and the rest comes from the library’s reserve.
The library does what it can to provide services for the community, Barrington said. They have an access program to do a mobile library to get to places where there are no locations.
Staff members go to the Westmorland School District, Niland Chamber of Commerce and Seeley Community Church once a month with books and laptops with Internet service.
Barrington said that a lot of times, one of the biggest problems in these communities is access.
There is also a book exchange program that allows people to check out books and return them whenever they are done with it. The books don’t have a specific return date and it is based on an honor system.
The snowbirds really take advantage of that program, Barrington said.
Another big program that the library offers is called “Every Child Ready to Read.” It works with parents even before the child can read, to make sure they are reading to their children as much as possible.
Until now, Barrington has been able to keep programs alive thanks to the help of the community with volunteer work and donations.
Last year, amid the economic crisis, the governor cut all funding through the state for libraries. The bigger problem is that there is money that comes from the federal budget, but that money only comes if the states match the contribution.
That means that if the state doesn’t reinstate the funding, libraries across the state will lose the money.
Some districts in the state will suffer more than others with the decision. The Imperial County district has expenditures per capita of $8.52 while districts like Santa Monica have expenditures per capita of $115.70. The average expenditure per capita in the state is $32.70, according to the California State Library Web site.
The literacy program is one of those programs that face cuts if the federal money doesn’t come through.
“We have fewer books than people that live in more affluent areas and access to books is one of the things that develop literate citizens,” Barrington said. “To maintain a democracy, you need literate citizens.”
Multimedia Producer Laura Gonzalez can be reached at 760-337-3440 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Three ways to help:
- Call state legislators and let them know how important libraries are in the community.
- Volunteer your time and skills to help out whenever possible.
- Donate. Any dollar counts.