Libraries are in my view an essential public service and key to a democratic society. In order to meet the incoming fiscal challenges that could threaten them, I met with several of my counterparts on the Santa Barbara City Council at the end of last year. I had not yet been sworn into my new position as County Supervisor, and the councilmembers I met with were surprised that the first thing I asked to meet with them about in my new role was libraries.
I have been a strong supporter of libraries my whole life. My local library acted as my child care, as they do for countless poorer kids. I would spend hours there reading books like The Hobbit while my parents were at work. In fact, the first high profile bill I authored in the Assembly was AB 438 in 2011, a bill to protect the public aspect of local library services. So when my constituents in Montecito and Carpinteria came to me in November of last year expressing concern about a proposed doubling of an administrative fee the City of Santa Barbara charges our branch libraries, it was an easy issue for me to prioritize.
The way our local libraries are administered is complicated, to say the least. We have a total of 15 libraries in the County of Santa Barbara, which are split up into zones. Each zone is administered by a city branch library. The City of Santa Barbara administers Zone 1, which includes both the Central and Eastside branches of the Santa Barbara library, as well as branches in Carpinteria, Montecito, Goleta, Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and Buellton. The county gives funding based on population in the amount of $7.80 per person. The chunk of county funding for the population that resides in Zone 1 is given to the City of Santa Barbara, which then splits it up among the branches it administers.
All the cities that administer branches, including Lompoc and Santa Maria, charge an administrative fee to their branches. The City of Santa Barbara has historically charged 9 percent and was proposing to double it to 18 percent in an effort to reduce the amount it subsidizes the branch libraries the city provides administrative services that would cost each branch significantly more were they to do it on their own. I’ve been lobbying the City Council to explore other options for recouping their costs or to at least phase-in the fee increase since December of last year.
I’m happy to report that the Santa Barbara City Council voted to phase in their fee increase over the next two years, going from 9 percent to 13.5 percent next year. That is still an increase in cost that will essentially act as a cut to some of our branch libraries. That’s why it is critical for all stakeholders to step up their investment to keep our libraries open. I’ve been lobbying the Carpinteria City Council to keep their investment in Carpinteria’s library steady from last year, and I’m pushing an increased investment through our county budget process to protect against closures and reductions of service.
Next, we will be undergoing a study to help us determine the future of our libraries, including how they are funded and administered. As chair of the County Library Advisory Committee, I look forward to spearheading that process and working with stakeholders across the county to create a stable and sustainable structure to keep our libraries open and accessible to the public.
Das Williams is the 1st District Supervisor for the County of Santa Barbara, and was most recently the assemblymember for the 37th District, and a Santa Barbara city councilmember before that.