The library’s Joint Powers Board, which runs the county’s public library system, recently approved a budget for fiscal year 2010-11. The budget includes a continued reduction in open hours at branches, a trimmed allocation for books and materials, and slimmer allowances to improve technology or build reserves.
The grand jury report, released last week, said the priorities that drive this year’s budget do not ensure the libraries’ long-term health.
“New technology would keep the system afloat. The system they have now is very antiquated, and if their integrated system goes down, they’re dead in the water,” said Doug Horton, chairman of the grand jury committee that studied the libraries.
The grand jury is a group of 19 citizen volunteers who investigate and recommend ways to help governing agencies run more effectively and efficiently.
The report did not directly recommend closing the smallest of the system’s 10 branches, but it urged that local communities consider taking over some branches with volunteers until the library system can afford new technology and develop a much-needed cash reserve.
But system director Teresa Landers said the grand jury’s findings are not news.
“We already knew most of what they found,” Landers said. “And there are many factual inaccuracies in the report.”
Landers has until September to answer the questions raised by the grand jury.
The report claims the coming Scotts Valley library branch will cost more to run than the system can handle, which Landers said is completely false.
“The Scotts Valley library will actually save us money, because we’re running it with the same staff that we already have,” Landers said.
Landers said a task force to research and address the libraries’ problems has already been put together and will begin working in August.
The libraries’ budget shrank from $12.6 million to $11.3 million last year and is expected to drop to $10.7 million over the next few years as the recession hurts tax revenues. This year’s budget is less than $11 million.
About half of the libraries’ budget is revenue from Measure R, a quarter-cent local sales tax first passed in 1996, before it was made permanent in 2008. But the flow of revenue from the tax has tapered off as county residents have bought less during the recession.
Paul Machlis, a library task force member who represents the Felton branch, said the group would look at the long-term sustainability of the Santa Cruz library system.
“Obviously, we will take a good look at the proposal to close branches, but also what changes would be needed in order to provide quality collections and services and substantial open hours at all existing branches,” Machlis said.
Darby Kremers, who represents the Boulder Creek branch on the task force, said keeping that community’s library open is important because the town has few public spaces.
“The Boulder Creek library is so far from the other branches, and there are no other community rooms in town,” Kremers said. “It is a place where young families can make lasting connections and is walking distance for the elderly. It’s pretty much the center of town.”