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Occasionally people around town ask me “what have you been up to for the last year?” (Actually it has been a year and a half since retirement.)

I’ve been chiefly occupied with two things: serving as a part-time chaplain at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas and participating on a study committee of our San Benito County Free Library which is slowly gearing up for action.

Let’s talk library.

Of all our surrounding counties, San Benito sadly has the smallest, poorest system. Want proof? Check out Gilroy’s beautiful new, huge library or the expanded and remodeled Cesar Chavez Library in Salinas or the downtown Santa Cruz library. Salinas is more than three times Hollister’s size and has three, big city libraries, but Monterey County has 17 branches – San Benito only one (San Juan Bautista has its own, independent, tiny library).

Salinas city libraries operate by receiving 40% of a recently passed ½% sales tax (the rest is for Parks and Recreation.). This gives Salinas City libraries $4.2 million each year. This is about ½ their budget. The other half is chiefly from grants.

San Benito County library operates on $15,000 per year given by the city of Hollister-unchanged for many years- and an annual County general fund allocation of $440,000. With this small amount our library does a valiant job of providing five employees who serve an annual checkout circulation of 137,000, with 130,000 library visitors annually. Also, our county has about 54,000 residents and of those residents about 30,000 have a library card including 9,700 children 14 and under. Fifty people each day use the few computers available.

In addition our library provides many services: adult literacy programs, wi-fi throughout the building, special book collections on California and American Indians, a public copy machine, a Bookmobile and mobile learning center for rural areas, reading programs for youngsters, passport arrangements and much more. However, because of lack of funds, the library can open only four days a week and desperately needs an IT employee. Also, a serious gap exists because of the few computers available.

We have to do something to create a library more available, more outstanding – a place we can all be proud of. Did you know that for the last 2 years no school libraries in the County have had librarians? For all practical purposes they have been closed. Our children must go to the public library but it, too, is often closed – lack of funds. The kids need to use computers but… too bad…

So, our little committee is looking at all this, studying what to do. Watch for some action within the next year. We retirees, with a little time on our hands, you see, can poke around at these things and probably ruffle a few feathers in the process.

Written by Father Larry Kambitsch 

Posted by BenitoLink Staff on Fr. Larry’s behalf