Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pomona library closure: Lessons from Salinas

The last big city to consider closing its library was Salinas, California in 2005. Salinas is demographically very similar to Pomona - heavily Latino, similar size, and comprised mainly of working class people with some rich areas. Salinas was short of $9.2 million and tried to raise taxes, which failed, and thus led to the proposed library shutdown. The closures received national attention and significant hand-wringing, yet there doesn't appear to be as much attention here paid by the national media (although hopefully this will be changing.)

Here are some major differences between Salinas and Pomona:
  • More libraries in the community. Salinas had three libraries in the community, with the main library built as part of the 1950's era civic center, one assumed when the city annexed unincorporated land, and one built as a result of population growth in the 1960's. When Pomona built its civic center, they built one large library, but never created branch libraries. Even in the boom times of the 1970's, Pomona did not develop branch libraries. 
  • Lack of connection to the local library. Many people in Phillips Ranch and North Pomona are closer to County libraries. The County libraries are much smaller, but offer a similar set of popular reading material and more importantly offer access to the entire County system, with many times more books than one individual library can. Interlibrary loan is generally clunky and expensive, so the advantage of placing a hold, for free, from the County system is a benefit for the savvy reader.
  • Salinas is the only game in town. In addition to the County libraries, Ontario has always had a deep collection - the best in the Inland Valley, even 15 years ago, and I went on trips with a friend's parents who consciously avoided Pomona to go to Ontario. Ontario had a large AV collection, and was open until 9 pm - Pomona always closed at 8, even pre-budget crisis, and its AV collection was modest (and gutted in the early 2000's to be replaced with the computer lab). And Ontario is only six miles  away. In contrast, the nearest big library to Salinas is Monterey, 18 miles away.
  • More local flavor. Salinas had John Steinbeck, and hosted the National Steinbeck Center. Pomona has some local authors but none with the international renown. It also is why Salinas got national attention immediately, while even Los Angeles media has been slow to pick up on the story.
  • We're inured to budget brinksmanship. With school districts issuing pink slips every year, only to be rescinded, and government agencies announcing cuts "to the bone" that ultimately have no impact on the average resident, it numbs the public. When Salinas proposed closure, it was unique.

One thing is for certain - the horses to save the library will not be coming from outside the community. Later we'll look at another key difference with Salinas - our city leader's refusal to seek additional revenue, and even oppose community-led efforts to generate funds.


meg said...

I don't know anything about a disinclination to think about generating funds, although I can well believe it. Can you tell us more, Calwatch?

Some forms of income generation -- paving paradise to put up a parking lot, that kind of thing -- strike me as counterproductive. Short-term income gains that make the community less livable are a bad idea.

I hope the city has other options available to it. There is certainly a lot of big-box real estate sitting empty; what could the city administration do to encourage occupancy?

I'm imagining a sky-writing campaign over the big-box headquarters: OCCUPY POMONA!

calwatch said...

I'll go into more detail later, but there's the John Mendoza tax which no one chose to rally behind, the First Street and Ninth Street transfer stations - both of which should have been negotiated down (keeping regular business hours, designated haul routes, CNG only access, etc.) instead of instantly rejected, etc.

Anonymous said...


If the city decides to close the library they will have a somewhat vacant building right in their own Civic Center, how will that look to investors? Encourage occupancy, how?