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Small Sacrifices Add Up As Residents Try To Save Library

December 31, 1993

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Most of Merced County’s public libraries will reopen with the new year, but only because of donations. It’s the latest library system in California to totter on the edge of oblivion because of state budget cuts.

A waitress offered her tips; a child volunteered money from recycling aluminum cans; a store planned to raffle off a bicycle; retired people with limited incomes pledged $10 from each of their Social Security checks.

Some public officials even took pay cuts.

″They always had a library to go to and they can’t imagine kids growing up without one,″ Atwater Councilman Dick Rogers said of people who stopped him on the street to praise a fund-raising drive he is leading for a branch in his city.

Supervisors of the 190,000-population county voted 3-2 to lay off all library staff Dec. 31 after residents defeated Measure A, a local 0.5 percent sales tax meant to pay for libraries, parks and street repairs. The idea was to close a $1.8 million deficit blamed on state cutbacks.

As of Saturday, the donation efforts had given 17 of the 19 branches in the farming county 125 miles southeast of San Francisco an extension past that deadline, but at reduced service levels. Some of those may need more money to keep going to the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The two losers are small, rural branches.

Supervisor Mike Bogna said some who helped defeat the tax increase in November have turned around to join the grass-roots effort.

″Because they feel we’ve fallen down on the job, they’re going to do the job we should be doing,″ Bogna said.

Waitress Shelly Berryman proposed that all waitresses in the county donate 1 percent of their tips.

″This is kind of a desperation thing. I don’t usually get involved in politics,″ she said.

Rogers predicted the New Year would bring a flurry of bake sales, book sales and other promotions to raise more money.

In Los Banos, 1,200 subscriptions to the library are being sold for $35 each. That would raise enough to keep a local branch open for one year.

Elected officials donated parts of their salaries. Most recently, county department heads, including the sheriff and county administrator, volunteered to take 5 percent pay cuts.

But donations won’t allow full library service the rest of the fiscal year.

Hours are expected to drop from 46 per week to 16 after New Year’s at the main branch in Merced, which got a $65,000 contribution from the city.

Many core services have been eliminated altogether - no more reference help, children’s story hour, class visits or new books.

Merced County is not alone. Citizen involvement is keeping libraries alive at reduced levels of service throughout California as the state struggles through a recession, said state library consultant Liz Gibson.

California ranked last in the nation for the number of hours that public libraries were open in 1990-91, the last year for which data are available, Gibson said. Hours have been cut statewide each year since then, including a 14 percent cut in 1993, Gibson said.

Merced County Friends of the Library President Twila Stout said local branches don’t die quietly because they represent liberty and equal access to education.

″People seem to think that a library is a right that we should have, like apple pie and Mom. It’s an American institution,″ she said.

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