Patrons of the E. P. Foster Library in Ventura must stand in the aisles to browse through books, because shelves and librarians' desks have taken over what was once the public reading area.
Space at the Moorpark Library is so cramped that all the furniture must be moved to the walls for puppet shows or other children's programs. "We're just too crowded," said Mary Crockford, Moorpark's head librarian.
The Camarillo Library has no room to shelve new books without tossing old ones out. As a result, most periodicals in the library's collection date only to 1986.
"We're at the point where we're going to lose if we gain something," said Patricia Schaffer, children's librarian in Camarillo.
A 1989 Ventura County study cited these public libraries as the top three in the county with the greatest need for expansion or replacement. Starting with Camarillo, the county is beginning to develop specific plans to help the public libraries catch up with the growth in population all around them.
The planning comes at a time when libraries have no money for these capital projects, and officials say their budgets have never recovered from tax revenue that was lost after Proposition 13.
Richard Maynard, supervising librarian at Foster Library in Ventura, said facilities are so out of date that it is almost fortunate that library budgets for new books are not greater--because they would have no place to put the books.
Camarillo Library is one-third the size that it should be to accommodate its book collection and the city's growing population, the study said.
The study recommended an $8-million expansion of the 16,500-square-foot facility, where books are crammed into shelves on narrow aisles that are creeping into the central study area of tables and chairs.
County officials say Moorpark library's needs are just as urgent as those in Camarillo, and community meetings soon will begin on a proposal to quadruple the size of the Moorpark Library at a cost of $3 million.
County officials say they plan to hold off on expanding the Foster Library, even though it is in the worst shape of the county's 16 public libraries.
"Ventura is a larger and more complex building, and so we have thought it was best if we sort of practiced on the smaller projects before tackling the biggest one," said Dixie Adeniran, county library director.
The study recommended a new $12- to $15-million library to replace the Ventura facility, which also would house the county library service headquarters.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors recently authorized spending $88,000 to hire consultants to figure out what needs to be done for the five county libraries listed in the study as having the greatest needs. Ojai and Fillmore ranked fourth and fifth.
The consultants, Ray and Sarah Holt of Del Mar, will start with Camarillo. At a 7:30 meeting tonight at the Camarillo Library, they will ask residents to describe what they would like to see in their community library.
Three years ago, the county refurbished the 1974 Camarillo Library, razing a fountain in the central area to make way for more tables and chairs. Workers also removed study carrels along the walls to fit in more bookshelves.
But the library has already outgrown that "Band-Aid" expansion, Schaffer said. The renovation has brought new problems. For example, sound is no longer diffused by the falling water of the fountain, so voices and other audible distractions carry much farther across the library floor.
"It's noisy, so noisy," Schaffer said. She said librarians cannot keep down the sounds of voices and people walking by. "It's very disruptive."
Adeniran said the county plans to seek a grant to expand the Camarillo Library if the state Legislature passes a proposed bill that would set aside $150 million in bonds to build new libraries and improve old ones. Voters would have to pass a bond measure by a simple majority.
Once the bonds are issued, the county would then have to apply for state funds, which would cover 65% of construction costs. Construction would take 18 to 36 months, Adeniran said.
But without state money, she said, "it's back to the drawing board."
Patrons of the Camarillo Library are older, better educated and more affluent than the county average, according to the 1989 study. The demographics correlate with proportionally higher library usage than in other cities. In a city of 54,584 people, the library has issued 35,000 library cards to city residents and others who live nearby.
The library opened in 1974, when the city had only 22,360 residents. Since then, the library's collection of books has increased from 50,000 to 97,000 volumes.
"It is a community that uses the library actively," Adeniran said.
Vice Mayor Charlotte Craven, one of the organizers of tonight's meeting, said students suffer the most because of the facility's inadequacies.
"They don't have adequate research material," she said. "The general public is being hurt because there isn't the variety of reading material."
Kees Van Dyke, 19, a Moorpark College student who lives in Somis with his parents, said he has found the library to be lacking books to help him write college papers.
"I was doing a report on monkeys, and they had one book," Van Dyke said, sitting at a table after a night of studying. Librarians told him that he could request books from other public libraries, but he did not have time to wait for them to arrive.
Jenell Gibson, an 18-year-old Ventura College student who lives in Camarillo with her parents, said she had trouble finding information on the Vietnam War.
"They had picture books," she said. "That's pretty much what they had."
In response to the students' complaints, Adeniran noted that the Camarillo Library is a community library, not an academic one.