Struggling to improve services at Ventura County-run libraries hit hard by budget cuts, a divided Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided to boost hours at branches in Camarillo and Simi Valley.
After heated debate, the board voted 3 to 2 to open the two branches an extra four hours a week by moving employees from the reference room to the checkout desk.
“We are simply shifting existing employees to try to get better service at these large libraries,” said Supervisor Vicky Howard, who negotiated with county Library Agency officials to come up with the plan.
Howard said the expansion at the two branches is a small step toward remedying effects of the 20% budget reduction on the county’s 15 libraries.
But Supervisors Maria VanderKolk and John K. Flynn strongly opposed increasing the hours in Camarillo and Simi Valley, saying libraries in smaller communities were devastated by cuts and are more in need of the extra hours.
“I resent this whole proposal,” VanderKolk said. “It’s very hard for me to support extending services in large cities when my little library in Oak Park is only open 16 hours.”
Flynn concurred, pointing out that libraries in El Rio, Oak View, Meiners Oaks and on Ventura Avenue are also on 16-hour-a-week schedules.
“We’re taking the libraries that serve, in many cases, the working poor and keeping those hours down while raising hours in the cities,” Flynn said. “I see an equity problem.”
Alan Langville, the county’s manager of community libraries, defended the plan, pointing out that the Camarillo and Simi Valley libraries possess two of the largest book collections in the county.
“These libraries provide a broad selection of materials,” Langville said. “By keeping them open, you’re giving people access to those materials.”
Nonetheless, Flynn called Tuesday’s decision an “end run on the budget process.” He suggested reviewing the budget to try to come up with more money so that hours at all branches could be extended.
Because of a $1.7-million cut in funding, the supervisors in July reduced the weekly hours of the Camarillo and Simi Valley branches from 54 to 28. Under the plan approved by the supervisors, the two branches will be open 32 hours a week starting Oct. 4.
The change will delay behind-the-scenes services, like sending out late notices and re-shelving books. But Howard said such inconveniences are worth suffering to have the libraries open more hours.
“It’s an experiment that I feel will pay off,” she said.
Supervisor Maggie Kildee also supported the plan and suggested it be used as a prototype that could be adopted by other branches.
“This proposal doesn’t deal with all the libraries and all the inequities,” Kildee said. “But I think this is an innovative approach to deal with the libraries over which we do have some control.”
Some cities are not waiting for county action.
In Ojai last night, the city council agreed to pay the county $30,000 to keep its library open an additional 26 hours a week.
With the expanded hours, the branch, which was open 51 hours before the cuts, will operate on a 46-hour-a-week schedule.
“When you’re fluctuating the hours like they have been, it tends to keep people from going to the library at all,” said Lisa Meeker, president of the Ojai Valley Friends of the Library. “The more consistent the hours, the more people will come.”
The Ojai council also discussed the possibility of breaking away from the county system entirely, but left that decision for future discussion.
Simi Valley and Moorpark are also considering forming their own library systems. Libraries in Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Santa Paula are already funded locally.
“We’re going to have to look at it,” Ojai Councilwoman Nina Shelley said. “This library is very popular, and I feel that people would support whatever measure we felt was necessary to keep it operating on a regular schedule.”
Times correspondent Matthew Mosk contributed to this story.
The public is invited to a Sept. 30 brainstorming session to come up with a plan to raise funds and increase hours and services at county-run libraries. The meeting will be held from 1:30 to 5 p.m. at the Camarillo Library, 3100 Ponderosa Drive. The meeting is jointly sponsored by the County Board of Supervisors, Library Services Agency and County Superintendent of Schools office. For more information, call 652-6289.