For most kids in Ventura County, school begins next week, and that means trips to the public library for book reports and research projects.
However, going to the library isn’t what it used to be. The good old library used to be open day and night, as dependable as the corner grocery. Even on Saturdays the place was doing business.
Not any more. At least not at the 15 county-operated libraries. Because of budget problems, the libraries’ hours were slashed beginning last month. Now, if your kid needs to hit the stacks, the library doors won’t be open any ol’ time.
The smaller libraries, like Oak View and Soliz-El Rio, aren’t open on Saturday at all, and the others are open only from 1 to 5 p.m.
Forget going in the morning. Most of them don’t open now until 2 or 3 p.m. Depending on the location, they close at 6, 7 or maybe 8 p.m. They’re all closed on Friday and Sunday, and some are dark on certain weekdays.
If you live in Port Hueneme, for instance, the library is open 3 to 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. In Ventura, you can go to the E.P. Foster branch Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, while the H.P. Wright branch is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Scheduling library time is going to be tricky, especially for working parents. Librarians are warning that with fewer hours and reduced staff, the lines are going to be longer and they won’t be able to provide much hand-holding for the student bewildered by a class assignment.
“It’s going to be rough,” said Julie Albright, a library technician in the children’s division of the county’s Library Services Agency. “The real crunch will be felt when the kids are back in school.”
Because of the money shortage, the agency’s services for children have been nearly gutted, she said. For the most part, forget classroom trips to the library, forget weekly story hours, forget puppet shows and films.
Kids working on projects will find some other inconveniences. Most of the libraries aren’t allowing magazines and encyclopedias to go out. Certain books that are heavily used by students won’t be allowed out either because of the shortened hours.
At Port Hueneme’s Ray D. Prueter Library, children’s librarian Sara Ellinwood is working on signs and displays that explain the library to kids so they won’t need to take the time of a librarian.
Sandi Kaplan, supervising librarian in Camarillo, said she is taking the self-service route too. For instance, all the books that contain science experiments are labeled on the outside so kids can find them easier.
The new, shortened hours may seem difficult for parents, but Kaplan said they were actually designed to best meet the needs of schoolchildren.
The libraries in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks are not part of the county library agency. They have, so far, been spared severe cuts in operating hours. In fact, the Thousand Oaks Library is even open on Sunday.
While convenience-store library hours seem a dream away, a library specialist with the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District has a dream of a different sort.
Adele Bildersee envisions Camarillo schoolchildren becoming computer pen pals with children in the coastal city of Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky, located on a remote peninsula in the Russian Far East.
Bildersee, a library instructional materials supervisor with the district, just returned from a weeklong visit to the fishing port as part of an eight-member international group hoping to lay the groundwork for the computer linkup.
Letters from California to the Russian city take three months via regular mail, she said. But using computer “E-mail,” it only takes 20 minutes to receive a message.
The Russian children already communicate with schoolchildren in Minnesota via computer. Bildersee, who arranged and financed the trip herself, hopes to interest Camarillo educators in a similar project.
Kids would learn about the geography and customs of another country while they improve their communication skills, she said. The Russian children, whose schools have a limited number of computers, could sharpen their English.
Bildersee said it is possible to hook the school computers into an international computer network that would make the overseas communication virtually free to the district. The other costs? Modems, at about $70 apiece, and the cost of a local phone call.
“It all sounds very interesting,” said Erich Anders, the school district’s assistant superintendent. “What implications it has to Pleasant Valley, though, are yet to be seen.”