We all take the Berkeley Public Library for granted. The Central Library and branches are open Monday through Thursday until 9 p.m., with shorter hours Friday and Saturday, and open on Sunday at Central. It’s all there for us — the ever helpful reference section, the book information desk, great book collections, both technical and casual, magazines, newspapers, an extensive collection of videos, CDs and musical scores; not to mention easy access to computers. And there are special events to please everyone — storytelling for children, live musical events, timely lectures and meetings. Library access is free to everyone, including the unemployed who are trying to get their lives back together.
Library use has surged. Since it reopened in 2002, the greatly expanded and elegant Central Library has attracted many more patrons (at least 30 percent more). It’s a favorite site for nearby Berkeley High School students to do homework assignments and use the Internet. The branches are also serving increasing numbers of adults and children. Indeed, the branches bring library service to all corners of Berkeley, as patrons can request that materials be sent to their neighborhood branch.
These resources may well diminish in the coming months. The looming budget crisis has not spared the library system: the library is faced with a shortfall of almost $2 million in the next two fiscal years, beginning July 2003. Beyond the strict hiring freeze now in place, the library would have to cut the materials budget (for books, magazines, CDs, etc.) and reduce the hours of library service.
Maybe you remember the 1980s, when library hours and service were strictly limited until Berkeley passed the Library Parcel Tax in 1988. That measure allowed the library to hire additional staff and extend hours of service. It also gave City Council the option of adjusting the parcel tax in line with either the very conservative Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the more generous Personal Income Growth Index (PIGI). Thus far, the council has followed only the CPI index in making yearly adjustments. However, if the council chooses to follow the PIGI, the budget crisis can be averted. Under this plan, homeowners with a house of 1600 square feet would pay an additional $65 a year. (Very low-income homeowners are exempt from the parcel tax.)
How much do you value the Berkeley Public Library? In these times of economic difficulty and political uncertainty, the library offers us a quiet oasis to browse the varied collections and to come away refreshed and ready to face future challenges. And it provides our school-age children an additional resource when teacher layoffs and larger class sizes might stymie their academic progress.
Please contact your City Councilmembers and the mayor to express your support for a parcel tax adjustment.
Josephine Arasteh is a Berkeley resident.