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Library still vital part of community, report finds

POSTED November 15, 2011 10:42 p.m.

In a time of Kindles, the Internet, and high-speed, always-on communications, is the quiet, quaint, nearly century-old Stanislaus County Library system still relevant?

“The answer is yes. It certainly is,” said Stanislaus County Librarian Vanessa Czopek, during Tuesday’s annual library report. “More residents than ever are utilizing the library’s core services.”

The 69 percent of Stanislaus County residents holding library cards checked out 2.2 million items last year –those coming from the library’s 781,000 item, $19 million collection. Another half-million were used within the library, but not checked out.

Librarians helped answer 120,000 reference questions. The library’s computers were used by the public 213,000 times.

Despite the heavy usage by the county’s reading population, the library faces a significant challenge: as much as one-third of Stanislaus County is functionally illiterate. Other library programs look to address those issues, like ReadingWorks, which helped 1,457 adults learn to read last year.

That service, plus job hunting help, computer classes – taught to 504 participants – and business reference resources make the library key to the county’s financial future, Czopek said.

“Our libraries are assisting in the economic recovery,” Czopek said.

To help build and retain reading skills, the library offered 2,000 preschool Story Times last year – attended by 71,000 – and conducted a successful summer reading program, with nearly 13,000 participants split among children, teens, and adults alike.

“These are key building blocks for success in school,” Czopek said.

The library’s future, though, awaits voters on the June 5, 2012 ballot.

The Stanislaus County Library currently receives 87 percent of its funding from a dedicated one-eighth of a cent sales tax, with no city support and only a minimal contribution from the county. The tax amounts to about $1.66 per household, per month, on average.

The ballot initiative would extend the tax, due to expire in 2013, through 2018. Two-thirds of voters must approve the tax, as have previously in 1995, 1999, and 2004.

With the Stanislaus County Library due to celebrate its centennial in April 2012, passing the tax extension will be key to ensuring future generations continue to experience the magic of the library.

“We’re even more magical than Hogwarts,” said Czopek, referencing the school of witchcraft and wizardry attended by the famous fictional magician Harry Potter.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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