A coalition of community members gathered at the San Benito County Free Library on July 13 to discuss the potential for new library facilities.
Although such talk has taken place in the last couple of years, no action has been taken. In August 2016, Library Systems Services Inc. conducted a needs assessment of the current library facilities and a proposed technology, education and library (TEL) center. In a February 2017 report, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors was told the cost for its dream, a 60,000-square-foot TEL Center, would be $47 million.
An estimated 60% of San Benito County’s current population actively uses the library, making it one of the county’s most-used public agencies, according to the Coalition for a New Community Library And Resource Center. The San Benito County Free Library currently offers 22 services, resources, and programs in addition to loaning books and other media to library cardholders.
At the time of the library’s construction in 1960, the county population was approximately 16,000. Now, with the population reaching a projected 61,000 by 2021, the coalition says the existing library fails to adequately accommodate the needs of the community.
Head librarian Nora Conte said at the July 13 meeting that the library is the first pillar of education, an institution of equality that predates schools and colleges.
“The planning of the library must be a shared vision—where we look at what is happening, and what the needs of the community are—so that we can be responsive,” Conte said.
The vision for a new library is a three-story facility featuring a multi-use room, study rooms, a computer lab, children’s room, teen area, activities for seniors, and more. According to coalition co-chairs Tami Aviles and Susan Logue, the new library would ideally remain on the same Fifth Street block as the present one.
Coalition member Bill Tiffany mentioned Mayor Ignacio Velazquez’s desire for a TEL center with a new library layered into it, a vision that differs from the coalition’s.
“I don’t see how we could afford it,” Aviles said of the TEL center. “We’re just trying to fund the library.”
The coalition emphasized the county’s basic need for a new public library over the need for a collegiate-level technology center. It maintained that the mayor’s project is separate from theirs.
The group is seeking at least three members of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors to approve a resolution to support a new library at its July 23 meeting and to approve a request for $35,000 for a feasibility study. That money would be added to the library’s budget for 2019-20.
There was confusion among attendees regarding a previous presentation in which Conte requested $150,000. Conte cleared it up.
“I asked for that amount of money, and the reason I did was that I’ve also seen situations where you don’t appropriate enough. Then you have to go all the way back through the process and take up additional time,” Conte said. “I was looking at the entire process, not just a part of the process, and starting a conversation as well.”
According to the Coalition, the amount requested for the feasibility study has always been $35,000, and the additional $115,000 would have gone toward funding other elements of the project such as architectural drawings and business plans.