Children spending long summer hours in the Goleta Branch Library without an expert for their literary needs won’t be out in the dark much longer. A handful of determined families took to the Goleta City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon, where the council voted unanimously to pay additional money to find a new children’s librarian, keep the library open on Mondays, and obtain control of the library from the City of Santa Barbara. The council will draw money from the city’s General Fund to add $42,000 to the $60,000 it is providing.
The public library, located on North Fairview Avenue, is currently under the umbrella of the Santa Barbara system. Recent times have been tough for the Goleta branch, which is operating at a current-year deficit of over $150,000. The City of Santa Barbara had recommended options to alleviate the problem, which Deputy City Manager Kathleen Trepa presented to the council. The options included leaving the recently vacated children’s librarian position unoccupied and closing the library an hour early Tuesdays through Thursdays, as well as entirely on Mondays. This would push the library back into budget positives, according to the data Trepa presented.
Speakers at the public forum wholeheartedly opposed the recommendations. Parents, children, and concerned citizens took issue with the idea of closing on Mondays, saying the library serves as an important hub for schoolchildren because of the information and study space it provides.
One speaker, Danny Fitzgibbons, noted the library’s importance to residents of Old Town Goleta, an area, he said, that largely doesn’t have access to computers. “If you are a child in Old Town, and you need a computer, you need to find a way up the freeway — and that’s just not feasible,” Fitzgibbons said.
Another speaker, from a group identified as the Kelly family, held up signs she had made with her children that read “Kid Librarians Rock!” She spoke about the urgent need for a children’s librarian, asking if anyone at the council meeting could recommend an age-appropriate biography of Rosa Parks to a grade-schooler. “If you don’t support the libraries,” she said, “start building jails.”
Councilmember Roger Aceves asked Trepa why the decision to either hire or forgo a children’s librarian wasn’t brought to the council. Though Trepa said the position was not fully eliminated, Aceves contended that it actually was, by virtue of it never being filled after the previous librarian left. He said he was “uncomfortable” with how the decision took place, especially since, according to Trepa, it takes up to 90 days to fill the position. “Now it’s summer, and we don’t have a children’s librarian,” he said. “This is something my son will go through.”
Councilmember Michael Bennett echoed Aceves’s concerns. Bennett serves on the library’s ad hoc committee with Councilmember Paula Perotte. He said the committee was only made aware of the Santa Barbara city staff’s “unilateral” decision because of a notice put on the door of the Goleta library. His new goal, he said, is to “forget” and “be done” with the City of Santa Barbara.
The councilmembers agreed that the budget problems could be helped if the council took money from the city’s General Fund. Mayor Jim Farr supported the idea and reaffirmed the library’s importance, asking rhetorically, “Is there a better institution in Goleta than the library?”
The council voted to add $42,000 to its current contribution of $60,000 to the Goleta branch. It also resolved to begin a process of acquiring control over the library. According to Trepa, Santa Barbara may not have sufficient money or staff to send over additional part-time employees. However, the council decided to begin negotiations with the City of Santa Barbara in order to make the process work.