There is a sentiment lately, that ‘Print is dead.’ Yet if you go to a local library like the one in Sonoma, California, it is the hub for books, news and everything else in our high tech age of the super information highway.
Librarians and staff at the Sonoma Valley Regional Library were pleased to introduce patrons to new check out kiosks that were installed April 25. Part of a complete technology renovation system-wide, all Sonoma County branch libraries have these new state-of-the-art self-check out kiosks.
The arrival and installation of the new kiosks, came right after National Library Week which was April 7 through April 13.
To emphasize just how much the new technology will help to enhance and greatly improve access to our local public library system, here are a few recent statistics to digest. These are just a few tallied over the past year.
· 2,055,021 is the tally of in-person visits to Sonoma County Library locations.
· 2,730,049 is the number items circulated over the past year.
· 113,139 is how much the attendance at library events over the past year has kept patrons and residents informed, connected and a part of the greater community.
Staff and librarians at the Sonoma Library want people to keep in mind, “Our local library, like many across the country, offers unlimited possibilities to the people of Sonoma County.”
They also wanted to mention some other important facts and a bit of history.
Comprised of 12 branches, two rural stations and multiple special collections, the Sonoma County library system has its roots in 19th Century visionaries who realized that access to information was key to a free and civil society.
The first known local public library appeared in Petaluma in 1858, organized by the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Other communities followed suit, and libraries came into existence throughout the county.
As local and regional libraries grew, prospered (and sometimes didn’t) libraries and community leaders began to talk about the value of consolidation. The first Joint Powers Agreement to form a regional library system was signed in 1975. A revised Joint Powers Agreement among the County of Sonoma and all nine cities was signed in 2014.
The library system struggled throughout the beginning of the 21st Century, as the need for service outran the cost of providing it. In 2016, a county-wide effort resulted in the passage of Measure Y, a one-eighth of a cent sales tax that brought local library funding up to comparable levels to that of similar library systems.
With the extra funds from Measure Y, the Sonoma County Library was able to accelerate what had been a steady, but modest process of modernization. The annual budget is now approximately $30.5 million, most of which is spent on staff and materials.
In 2018, the library system loaned 2,868,701 items to county residents, and 344,282 different users visited library system websites, to download e-books, stream movies, look up and reserve books, and more.
Two years after Measure Y passed, the library has increased its materials budget by two-thirds. Because of Measure Y, the library more than doubled programming funds, and hired administrative and support staff focused on growth and service.
New staff include three new managers and dozens of support, collections, delivery and branch personnel.
In 2018, the library added 35 percent more hours to its weekly schedule. Branches are now open Mondays, stay open until 9 p.m. twice a week, and Saturday hours were increased.
Measure Y funds are being used in direct service to the half-million residents of Sonoma County in many ways: the library provides tens of millions of dollars of value in the free use of books, DVDs, CDs, e-books, audio books and other physical assets.
Libraries are leaders – in some communities the only provider – of early childhood learning and school readiness, always in close partnership with local school districts.
Just to reiterate, librarians and staff at the public library on West Napa Street want people to know … Libraries are more than books, films and databases.
Sonoma County Library patrons can check out a backpack with all the passes and guides needed to explore county parks; they can check out a toolbox with the tips and supplies needed to weatherize their homes; patrons can visit the library and have a free consultation with a lawyer, get help with their taxes, learn a new dance, hear a story or learn a craft.
Our libraries are powerful forces for social equity. In the past two years, our Library Commission has adopted comprehensive statements supporting inclusivity and the undocumented. We live those values every day in our branches, where we also offer Spanish language materials, support and a welcoming attitude.
Branches help lead the system into new territory as well. Library branches recently piloted a program that provides free menstrual supplies to patrons who are in need. The library reaches out to and supports unsheltered patrons. All are welcome in the libraries, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or faith.
In early March, after almost two years without a permanent Library Director, Ann Hammond began work as the permanent Director of the Sonoma County Library. Hammond was chosen after a nationwide search. In a newspaper article announcing her hire, Hammond said libraries are: “the last democratic institution welcoming to all … free and open to everyone.”
The Sonoma County Library is gradually updating each branch of the library and putting extra funding and energy into a branch for the Roseland community. Roseland has been underserved for many years, and the library is leading the way in providing a community hub and free access to the tools of civic involvement.
Library staff also noted that National Library Week was an ideal opportunity to mention that the Sonoma County Library addresses an emerging social justice issue by offering free WiFi hotspots. These WiFi hot spots began on April 8 and staff are eager to see it grow and get better.
“As part of a pilot program 500 WiFi hotspots will be distributed to every library branch in the county and loaned to patrons on a first come, first-served basis,” said Vicki Terbovich, Sonoma County’s Information Technology Manager and the driving force behind the program.
Library patrons who don’t have access to the information superhighway – because of geography or household income – will be able to “borrow the internet” at no cost and apply for jobs, augment their schoolwork, and enjoy the same digital resources as everyone else.
Also, patrons of the library should know that the library provides free online access to software training, world language learning, independent film collections, magazine and newspaper subscriptions (even the New York Times), all free with a library card.