OPINION: Hollister needs to fund more library operations

The meager level of library funding from the City of Hollister hurts city residents most

According to the U.S. Census, Hollister's population in 2010 was 34,928 and the estimated 2016 population was 37,833. That means Hollister’s $15,000 annual contribution to library operations came out to 43 cents per resident per year in 2010 and 40 cents per resident per year in 2016. At that rate, in a few years the library will have to pay the city for the privilege of serving its population.

The San Benito County Free Public Library is really the Hollister Municipal Library because that is, overwhelmingly, who it serves. First, that's where it's located and second Hollister has 63 percent of the county’s population. As for the rest of the county San Juan Bautista has its own municipal library and Aromas has access to a small branch of the Monterey County Library; additionally, both are also within easy reach of the Gilroy Branch of the Santa Clara County Library. South County is served with the bookmobile.

In 2015-2016 San Benito County contributed $778,834, or $14.21 per capita, for operational funding according to state reports. This was slightly higher than the $14.09 per capita average of the 10 county libraries serving populations between 20,000 and 100,000 from their General Fund. The county's net library budget is recommended to increase $30,000, or twice Hollister's meager contribution, to $871,000 in the 2017-2018 cycle. 

Excluding the super rich cities like Beverly Hills, he average funding of the 46 municipal libraries in the same population category was more than $43 per capita; locally, San Juan Bautista managed to contribute more than $26 per capita for its municipal library two years go. Their local funding was $48,550, more than three times Hollister’s total contribution to the county library even though Hollister had 20 times the population.

The county library is not open much due to inadequate operational funding. The average "hours open per 100 population" of the 14 county libraries in our size range, both with General Fund and dedicated taxes, was 10.94 hours while ours was only 3.14 hours in 2015. The hours have since been expanded four hours a week, but that's not enough. When the library is open it’s very busy. It averaged 48 visits an hour and a circulation of 57.8 an hour when it was open. During 2015 the library ran 129 Pre-School Programs and 120 School Aged Programs with a total attendance of 7,759. They have to go out and operate on the lawn because the facility is inadequate, but that's another story.

Looking at the figures for libraries with better funding shows that longer  hours will draw more users. I have always tried to get the City of Hollister a fair shake with the county, in this case I’m arguing to get the residents of Hollister a fair shake from their own city government. We are shamefully underserved and the county does not have the funds to do much better.

There is no excuse to wait for a new library when the use of the current facility is not being maximized. The city should be contributing $10 per resident, not 40 cents, with the understanding that it will go directly to operations at current costs or they may arrange to hire help directly and supply it to the county.

A new library is going to cost a lot more than that to operate in a manner that will give the public abundant access, so they might as well get used to funding it and get all the advantages from the current facility while we are at it.

The city owes this service enhancement to the residents who have been very generous with their tax dollars.

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.