It is ironic that a visit to a local library brings with it the necessity to be as quiet as possible, but when library operations are discussed at the government level, the decibel restrictions vanish.
That is not to say there are screaming-Mimi fisticuffs during library discussions at City Council and county Board of Supervisor meetings, but the talks can get spirited.
That’s because library services in this and every other community we’ve ever encountered can be very territorial. Neighborhoods take their local library branch seriously, and neighbors can be extremely protective.
It was, therefore, something of a shock when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors authorized a reorganization of county library services, including potential changes in its funding formula, and the board did it without a lot of argument.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam even made a little joke about it, pointing to a bag of popcorn he brought to the meeting, so he could nibble while staff, board members and members of the audience argued over the proposed policy changes.
Instead, it was mostly sweetness and light, which may not last, because the board’s action means the staff will work on a final strategy for the reorganization/funding changes, which the board will consider implementing for the 2018-19 fiscal period.
When that final plan comes back for discussion, there could be some fireworks. We don’t know if Supervisor Adam’s popcorn will last that long.
We say this with some confidence, because as with all things involving a countywide program, the end product will gore someone’s ox.
The county hired a consulting firm to put together the various elements of the proposed plan, but the board’s final vote to authorize the reorganization strategy relied on only some of the consultant’s recommendations.
It’s not an easy assignment. The county is split up into three library zones, with a city at the heart of each zone — Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara. The main branches are assigned to administer the smaller branch libraries within their zones. That in itself can create some friction for the smaller units.
There is a proposal for a fourth zone, with Goleta as its center point. Goleta is building a new library to provide services to Isla Vista and Hope Ranch.
The consultant recommended the Buellton and Solvang branches be moved into and administered by the Goleta Municipal Library, but board members thought that might be too much of a sudden change — and possibly cause for an uproar from the Buellton and Solvang branch operators and users. Still, that marriage may happen, when Goleta completes its main operations makeover.
The board also generally agreed to maintain the current funding formulas, at least for now, based on overall population within the various zones. The county’s Library Advisory Committee is tasked with the responsibility of deciding on recommendations for future funding changes. That, too, has considerable potential for provoking a ruckus.
The advisory group must struggle with finding the most equitable formula for doling out the $3.8 million the county allocates, considering the realities of disparate demographics from one community to another. It could be argued that library branches in less-affluent areas need a greater percentage of the funding — yet another potential cause for disagreement.
We admire the county’s approach to the library reorganization planning, slow and steady, in part because it acknowledges the critically important role libraries play in the social fabric.
Many folks thought libraries would fade into obscurity with the growing presence of the internet, but because most library systems embrace new technology, they have instead thrived.