Tuesday, November 10, 2009

There's never enough money for libraries

I spent some time placing requests this week via the online library catalog that connects Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma County branches. A few days later, I received a phone alert from the Sonoma County Library, letting me know that my books were ready at the Lakeport library.

My first stop when arriving at the Lakeport branch was the Friends of the Library sale shelves. Their continually-changing inventory includes classic and contemporary fiction, as well as non-fiction books on a variety of subjects. You can't beat the prices either, $1 for a hardcover book and 50 cents for a paperback.

Next I headed over to the shelves where requested books have been filed.

Whenever I check out books I've requested, I like to look on the barcode label to see where the books originate. "Warriors No. 6: The Darkest Hour" by Erin Hunter came from the Lake County Library while "Inkspell" by Cornelia Funke arrived for me in Lakeport via the Sonoma County Library. Because Lake County participates in a shared online catalog, the books can come from any branch library within our three-county system.

Friends of the Library describes the public library as "one of the main cultural and information centers of the community." It's a sentiment that I agree with.

Sadly, during the winter break, 13 Sonoma County libraries will go dormant. The Sonoma County Library system plans a 10-day furlough to help make up for a budget shortfall. During this furlough, its Web site and online services will also be shut down.

Because these libraries are linked online to our own library branches, these closures will also affect the patrons of our Lake County libraries.

Noting my place at 14 in the queue for "Parallel Play" by Tim Page, I observed that there are three copies within our three-county network and that they are part of collections at the Santa Rosa Central Library and at the Rohnert Park-Cotati and Windsor regional libraries.

I contacted the Sonoma County Library via Facebook and asked how the closures would affect libraries in Lake and Mendocino counties: specifically whether there will be anyone at the Sonoma County libraries logging returns and forwarding requested books to the next user in the queue.

The administrator of the Facebook page stated, "If you request a book that is only owned by Sonoma County Library, you will not receive it during the furlough. No one will be forwarding requests from Sonoma County Library during this period." The administrator added, however, that I can still place new requests during the furlough period.

This experience is a perfect example of our libraries' interconnected relationship. Besides, I don't kid myself for a moment that our Lake County libraries are magically immune to shortfalls. There are always additional needs not covered in the library budget. Hence I contribute via book sale purchases to Friends of the Lake County Library.

Sherman Alexie, a novelist and author of several short-story collections, says in a Mother Jones interview that reading a book involves all your senses, but it's about conservation as well. "If I had been talking about drowning polar bears, people would have been weeping with me," he says. "But nobody recognizes that a bookstore or library can also be a drowning polar bear. And right now in this country, magazines, newspapers and bookstores are drowning polar bears. And if people can't see that or don't want to talk about it, I don't understand them at all."

You can read the abbreviated interview in the November/December issue or read it in-full online at www.motherjones.com/sherman-alexie. And you can request Alexie's books, by the way, through your public library.

How many books would be out of my reach, due to personal budget limitations, if not for our public libraries? The upcoming furloughs at Sonoma County libraries make it all the more important to support our local libraries.

To learn more about our public libraries and access the card catalog online, visit www.co.lake.ca.us/Page386.aspx.

Published Nov. 10, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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