The troubles at the Santa Barbara city library branches are leaving what can only be described as a budgetary trail of tears. At the city’s special meeting on Monday, June 12, the vote was to set the administrative fee charged to its branch libraries at 13.5 percent. In making their vote, with the exception of Councilmember Gregg Hart, who asked to hold off on the increase for a year, the councilmembers chose to work in the city’s best interest. The city will be funding its Central and Eastside libraries by $4 million this coming fiscal year, an amount unmatched by other municipalities for their respective libraries.
Even that limited fee increase — the city was deciding on somewhere between 9 and 18 percent — sort of good for the library system but fairly bad for Solvang and Carpinteria branches, which would go into the red by $17,784 and $77,085, respectively, was nothing compared to the human toll resonating from the financial woes and administrative decisions.
During public comment, Tara O’Reilly, the recently retired Carpinteria head librarian, informed the council of the disrespect in the firing of many longtime library employees, one of whom received an $8,000 grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara on Tuesday to continue a program — Artesanía para La Familia (Family Arts & Crafts) — she’d started at the Carpinteria library. Suzanne Requejo told The Santa Barbara Independent that she’d been ordered to leave the library on the day her fifth-graders were arriving in anticipation of an arts-award and graduation ceremony. In shock, she was packing up her art supplies when her students overheard two people from the Central Library telling her she had five minutes to gather her things and leave. Kids have approached her since asking about her being fired, she said. Library Director Jessica Cadiente stated she could not comment on personnel matters and that she hadn’t known about the award at the time.
Every single library is balanced on a thin budget in a system that has been hemorrhaging for years. The city system — whose Central Library turns 100 years old this year — administers the libraries in Montecito, Carpinteria, Goleta, Buellton, and Solvang, and has had to make stark choices. It passes on an overhead admin fee for services like book distribution from the Black Gold system, collective purchasing power, and IT support. Historically — and for so long that city Finance Director Bob Samario said even he doesn’t know what exactly it once represented — that number has been set at 9 percent, but the council, urged by Cadiente, made the first stab at getting it closer to what it actually costs the city to run its branches: $557,420 this coming year. The 13.5 percent is a far cry from the 21 percent actually needed.
The grief of the money woes and ensuing personnel decisions overshadowed the optimistic presentation Cadiente had made, which included hoped-for capital projects at the Anapamu Street library, like an elevator to the downstairs children’s library — much needed by parents with strollers — and an effort to reopen the upstairs patio. In a later interview, Cadiente said the spacious main floor was the result of moving the children’s section downstairs and culling seriously out-of-date or mangled books. The new bookcase gondolas there have wheels, which enabled the library to host Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, in a space made roomier and to hold the Friends of the Library’s 100-year inaugural event, publication of the anthology Library Book, beside the fireplace.
Meanwhile, in another prong of financing for the libraries — the county’s per capita payment for services to unincorporated areas — Supervisor Das Williams had proposed adding another $200,000 to the kitty, as the county did last year. He also spoke to the Carpinteria City Council Monday evening, asking them to add another $15,000 to the $35,000 budgeted for its library. The county decided on Wednesday to add $180,000 to the per capita calculation and to place another $180,000 in a contingency fund to prevent branch closures and reduction of services. Carpinteria’s budget meeting occurs June 26.
Williams has also put in motion the search for a consultant to determine what the fair portion might be for each library of the unincorporated areas outside the cities. The consultant would also look at how Santa Barbara devises its administrative percentage and ultimately run scenarios evaluating the economic impact to the county of assuming responsibility for the branch libraries. That report might be complete by the end of this year, said Williams’s amaneunsis, Darcel Elliott.
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on July 7 to reflect that the $4 million coming from the City of Santa Barbara goes to its two libraries, not to the library system as a whole.