Seaside's county library will get a new home, but still needs more room.
Thursday, December 3, 1998
While they are grateful for a new county library proposed for downtown Seaside, local bookworms are nevertheless looking a gift horse in the mouth.
In a joint effort of the Seaside Redevelopment Agency and Monterey County, a new county library is slated for construction on a nine-acre site on Broadway Avenue between Noche Buena and Terrace streets, an area designated for redevelopment. The Seaside Redevelopment Agency has agreed to contribute up to $3 million of redevelopment funds to construct the library on property owned by the city. In the county free library system, the city pays for the library building and the county pays to run it.
While initial plans propose a 20,000 square-foot library to be housed within a larger building that will also consist of county offices, library staff and advocates say that isn''t enough.
"A 20,000 square-foot library will meet our needs now," says William Rawson, branch manager of the Seaside county library, "but we''re concerned about how to provide a facility that meets community needs in the future."
"We want to see flexibility in the design so that we can expand," says Friends of the Seaside Library President Alicia O''Neill. "We feel that it [a 20,000 square-foot library] is going to be outdated within a year."
Currently the largest of the 17 Monterey County Free Library Branches, the Seaside branch is the cornerstone of the system and draws patrons from all over the county. It is the research center for the county, and was the among the first libraries in the state to receive a grant to implement Internet services.
To keep up with increased demand, what is needed, Rawson and O''Neill say, is at least a 30,000 square-foot facility. The smaller version of the library, they say, will not allow for a greater variety of services, such as a music library, a separate childrens'' reading area, and expanded Internet services, that they would like to see added. Those additional services, they say, are important to the community, particularly in their potential of bringing adolescents into the library and off the streets after school.
County Librarian Bob McElroy explains that Seaside''s current library has long outgrown its 10,000 square-foot shell. The building has the capacity to hold about 50,000 books, he says, but is currently housing about 75,000, and librarians are struggling to find room. "The current library is bursting at the seams," he says.
For instance, a well-used meeting room has been converted into a computer room and a space for after-school homework assistance and adult literacy programs. All too often, says Rawson, library patrons are denied services because there simply isn''t enough room for everyone.
But officials say that the city cannot afford to contribute anymore money to build a larger library. "It''s a matter of economics," says Seaside City Councilmember Darryl Choates.
Likewise, county funding has been pushed to the limit. Funding problems stem from a 1993-94 state Legislature decision that transferred a portion of property tax revenues previously designated for local jurisdictions into the state''s general fund. That decision cost the Monterey County libraries about $800,000 a year. Although the county lost money too, the Board of Supervisors nevertheless approved giving the libraries $400,000 a year out of the county''s general fund to help ease the loss.
Therefore, with less money and more patrons--the county library budget is smaller than 10 years ago, says O''Neill, but has 34 percent more cardholders--the new library will still lack money for staff and new acquisitions.
As it stands, the Seaside library is short-staffed and depends on a large number of volunteers to provide existing services. For instance, Cecil Andrews, the city of Seaside''s director of management information systems, has offered free technical support to the library for nearly five years. Altogether, says Rawson, about 200 volunteers serving a total of 200,000 hours have kept the Internet program afloat.
However, with a new governor in Sacramento, there is hope that the Legislature will re-instate the lost funding for libraries. "My feeling is that we can squeeze every penny from the city and the county," says O''Neill, "but more funding still needs to come from the state."
Beyond that, librarians and community groups are digging deep, seeking grants and private sources of revenue to fund special projects. "We''re doing everything you can think of," says McElroy.
The Friends may also consider initiating a bond measure that will fund the library through a sales tax increase. If a library bond measure did make it to the ballot, approval would require a two-thirds vote by county voters. "I have a feeling that if people knew what [the tax increase] is going for and not disappearing into...the general fund," says O''Neill, "I think people would pass it."