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Insider Article [July 2013] [07/02/13] (Caltactics Column: Supporting Public Libraries)
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CALTACTICS Column

Help Support Public Libraries and the Vital Services They Provide

Having grown up in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the first free lending library in America, I have a special appreciation for our country’s library system. I believe that libraries elevate a population by giving us the tools to learn about the world around us and, ultimately, to be informed partners in our community, our country, and the democratic process.

Throughout my life I have supported libraries because I know that libraries are a place where children—and adults, for that matter—can feel comfortable exploring and asking questions. People of all ages depend on public libraries for a variety of valuable services including literacy programs, computer access, and other resources. As public schools and school libraries are closed, students are relying more on public libraries. Libraries are also playing a vital role in our country’s economic recovery by providing free job search and workforce development assistance.

Despite the fact that library attendance is at an all-time high in California, many libraries are struggling to meet the needs of their users in light of ongoing state and local budget cuts. We’ve seen library closures and major reductions in library hours. The State Library has declared that there is an incredible backlog for public libraries in California, and the cost of immediate and long-term needs are in excess of $8 billion.  

To help local governments raise finds to maintain their public libraries, I am authoring State Constitutional Amendment 7 (SCA 7).

If passed by both houses of the legislature, SCA 7 would place a measure before voters that, if approved, would enable local governments to pass special taxes and bonds to support their public libraries by lowering the voter threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent—the same as the vote requirement for K-12 schools.  

Currently, general tax measures that may be used to fund local services ranging from police and fire departments, to parks and streets, require only a simple majority to pass. Special taxes, which are dedicated only to specified uses, like libraries, need two-thirds voter approval.

SCA 7 would also provide greater accountability by requiring libraries’ governing boards to conduct an annual independent financial audit of the amount of bond proceeds or special tax proceeds collected, and expended, and the specified purposes and programs funded—and would also require the establishment of a citizens’ oversight committee, which would review all expenditures of proceeds and financial audits, and report its findings to the governing board and to the public.

SCA 7 has strong support from the California Library Association, California State Library Foundation, League of California Cities, California Park and Recreation Society, and many others.

At a time when so many people rely on public libraries, SCA 7 will help local governments better meet the needs of their local communities.  Express your support for SCA 7 with a letter to members of the Committee where the bill will be heard.

Please join us in this important effort to support public libraries throughout the state and provide a place where books and knowledge are free. 

Senator Lois Wolk
Representative for the 3rd Senate District
Includes all of Napa and Solano Counties, most of Yolo County, several cities in Sonoma and Contra Costa Counties, and a portion of Sacramento County