More than 20 residents gathered at the Hilmar Library on Friday and voiced their concerns with the sharply reduced operational hours and the realistic potential of the library’s closure in the next six months.
The informational meeting was held by Merced County Supervisor (District 4) Deidre Kelsey and Merced County Librarian Jacqueline Meriam to explain to Hilmar Library patrons the reason the hours had been cut, what future challenges the library faces, and possible solutions.
On July 18 the library hours were reduced to 10 hours a week, catching most patrons off-guard.
While topics at the meeting varied, the bulk of patron frustration was that the Hilmar Library is open the same amount of time as less-used libraries such as South Dos Palos and Stevinson.
A total of 61 books a month (on average) are checked out at the South Dos Palos Library, while more than 6,000 books a month are checked out in Hilmar.
The math doesn’t pencil out to Hilmar patron Julie Barroso.
“It feels like the county librarian is purposefully reducing the hours here so that less books are checked out and then she could justify closing the library for good,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense that you keep a library open that isn’t being used while the Hilmar library is being used but has the same hours.”
Meriam denied that being her motive.
“It’s not my interest to pick off libraries, why would I do that, I’m a librarian,” she said.
Patrons suggested moving hours from less-used libraries to the more popular Hilmar Library.
But Meriam indicated that political influences keep the South Dos Palos location open.
Patrons praised the value of the Hilmar Library for senior citizens, as a place for unemployed workers to search for jobs online and as a place for high school students to come after school, as well as it being a learning center for young children.
Both Kelsey and Meriam said the value of libraries isn’t a question — it’s the economics of budgets with fair and equal distribution between patron needs and employee salaries.
Merced County Libraries are funded in large part by a $900,000 tax-sharing with the City of Merced Redevelopment Agency. Should Merced lose its RDA money via the State of California’s budget cuts then the libraries would suffer a devastating loss of nearly 43 percent to a $2 million total budget.
On top of the potential loss in RDA funds, Merced County Libraries were asked to reduce their budgets by 20 percent this year due to a loss in tax revenue caused mainly by a drop in property value in Merced.
“What is most scary to me is the RDA though, if we lose that money we are going to have to close libraries,” said Kelsey.
While Meriam was instructed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors not to close libraries, Kelsey said reality will set in at some point.
“This is a process and a crisis. Eventually, we will have to close some libraries if we can’t find a solution,” she said.
Both Kelsey and Meriam agreed that the number one way to maximize operational hours is for patrons, communities, and friends of the library organizations to raise money. Kelsey said she is dedicated to keeping the library open.
“I will use my discretionary funding and match every dollar that is raised,” she said.
According to Meriam, the Hilmar Library already has a $6,000 trust fund set up. To keep the library open at 20 hours per week it would cost more than $45,000 a year. Staffing would cost $37,000 and operational costs would come to $8,000.
For more information on Merced County Libraries, visit www.co.merced.ca.us and click on the green banner link for “county departments.”
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.