Population Growth Has Libraries All Booked Up : Services: With half its residents card-carrying readers, Ventura County seeks state funding to expand its cramped system.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Libraries in fast-growing Ventura County are being squeezed for space and are chronically short of book money, officials say.

But some cities, notably Oxnard and Port Hueneme, have managed to build new libraries. And other systems have expansion plans.

Officials report that about half the population consists of card-carrying readers, and the use of libraries is booming.

"There are many competing activities to attract people and take up their time, but there is still a substantial use of the public library," Dixie D. Adeniran, the county library director, said. "If we could improve our facilities and our collection and our staff level, I believe it would be even higher."

Adeniran's county library system will ask for an as-yet-undetermined amount to help replace the cramped E. P. Foster Library, the main county library in Ventura, and for expansion of the Camarillo community library. In Ventura, plans call for a 100,000-square-foot building, twice the size of Foster, headquarters for the 16-branch system that serves areas throughout the county.

The Ventura library is expected to cost between $12 million and $15 million, the Camarillo expansion about $8 million, said Jim Becker, a county administration official.

Any state money would cover only part of the $20 million-plus for the two projects.

Nearly 200 library systems statewide are competing for $75 million approved by California voters for libraries in 1988, and requests total nearly nine times the amount available. Moreover, the state will pay for only 65% of any project.

Library officials are looking at other ways to finance the projects, including library partnerships like one the county formed with Port Hueneme.

The county library faces several problems, including skyrocketing book prices and a high demand for good children's books. Lack of space is the most immediate problem.

It's a result of population that in the last decade has outpaced resources and left libraries bursting at the seams.

The Foster Library has special problems of its own. The older part of the building, built in 1921, was declared unsafe last year after inspectors found it was built of unreinforced masonry. The cost of reinforcing it is considered prohibitive.

Officials moved some employees to newly leased space and converted their offices to storage space, squeezed other offices into a smaller area and closed a public meeting room, Adeniran said.

As space has decreased, circulation in the Ventura County system has increased steadily, from 1.3 million books and other items in 1982 to 1.7 million in 1989, Adeniran said. About half the county's residents have library cards, she said.

Camarillo's population has doubled since its 16,000-square-foot community library opened in 1974, leaving patrons, administrators and books competing for space, officials said.

"We are just squeezed to the max out there," Adeniran said.

County officials hope to receive money from Proposition 85, the state bond-issue proposition. Adeniran acknowledged that competition "will be very fierce."

State Librarian Gary Strong said the 195 requests for Proposition 85 money total more than $650 million.

"The need is incredible out there," Strong said. As with prisons and schools, he said, the state's aging libraries have not been well-maintained or replaced. "There just aren't enough facilities being built."

Services not required by law, including parks and libraries, must fight for dollars, Adeniran said.

Another factor has been Proposition 13. After the property tax measure passed in 1978, Ventura County officials were forced to lay off 30% of the library staff, cut hours by 30% and reduce the book and materials budget from $500,000 a year to just over $100,000, Adeniran said. Recovery has been slow, she said.

Although that budget in Ventura County is now about $742,000 annually, the county can buy less than in 1978 because book prices have nearly doubled and the cost of other materials has outpaced inflation.

By September, the workload had increased "until we got to a crisis situation again," Adeniran said. Shortly after Labor Day, officials cut library hours about 20%.

The hours were restored in January after the county Board of Supervisors approved spending the library system's $318,000 contingency fund to add 10 full-time positions and part-time workers.

Adeniran said she is "crossing her fingers that there will not be a need for those funds. If we have some unforeseen emergency this year, we would be in a lot of hot water."

Other Ventura County cities are coping in different ways.

At the city-run Oxnard Public Library, about 4,000 unshelved books are piled on the floor, and another 12,000 are in storage, said Gail Warner, the city library director.

"Our bookshelves are absolutely packed, crammed to the gills," Warner said. "We have books piled . . . everywhere."

The 18,000-square-foot library was built in 1963, when Oxnard's population was about 60,000, Warner said. About 130,000 people now live in Oxnard, and about 72,000 of them have library cards.

But help is on the way. Oxnard opened a new 3,700-square-foot library in November and recently accepted bids to construct a new 72,000-square-foot main library, Warner said.

In Port Hueneme, city officials worked in cooperation with the county to build a $2.3-million library, completed in September, which is nearly five times larger than the old city library, said City Manager Dick Velthoen. The city paid for construction and equipment, and the county is running it.

The county and the city of Port Hueneme each contributed $75,000 to a fund for books and materials, officials said. Adeniran cites Port Hueneme as a model for cooperation between cities and the county.

At the city-run Thousand Oaks library, officials would like to add 17,000 square feet to the 63,000-square-foot main library, Deputy Director Mary Lou Wigley said. The city recently purchased an old supermarket in Newbury Park for conversion into a new branch, Wigley said.

Ventura library patron Laura Lee, who takes her two sons to the Foster Library at least once a month, said a more educated population should be willing to pay for public libraries.

"It seems like more yuppies nowadays want their children to be more educated and that they would vote for more increases for new libraries," Lee said. "I would."

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