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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

Editorial–A New Chance to Save Our Libraries

Last March, San Diego County voters killed off what appeared to be the last chance to improve the valiant but crumbling public library systems in this region.

Proposition L would have created a quarter-cent sales tax to raise funds to build new libraries and renovate older ones. Its failure to garner a super-majority of voters was the second time such a ballot measure failed locally, and after two knock-down defeats, no one expected another attempt to save our public libraries.

Until now.

Proposition 14 is a statewide ballot measure which, if approved by voters next month, would allow state officials to issue $350 million in state bonds to pay for upgrading California public libraries.

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Approved overwhelmingly by Republicans and Democrats alike in the state Legislature, Prop. 14 was prompted by a government report showing California needs 425 new public libraries over the next few years to meet the demand of our growing population.

The money raised by the bond issue would finance up to 65 percent of the construction or renovation costs of local public libraries; communities would be responsible for the rest. None of the money can be used for administrative costs; all of it must be spent only on improvements or construction.

In San Diego, that means the lion’s share of the cost of building a long-needed new main library might be picked up by the state.

Next to good teachers, good libraries are the best means to instill literacy in our children. Literacy, in turn, is the first step toward building the kind of educated work force needed in this new millennium.

Unfortunately, California’s school children are sadly lacking in reading skills. In the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the state’s fourth-graders ranked next to last in literacy.

Those who oppose Prop. 14 criticize its total cost to the state , about $600 million including interest payments over the 25-year life of the bonds. But how much would we lose if we fail to stay competitive with an educated work force?

Opponents also claim the Internet would make any new libraries built with Prop. 14 funds obsolete in five or 10 years (their own official arguments don’t agree on the time).

But the Internet is far from becoming the much-touted Information Superhighway; commercialization is rendering it little more than an electronic swap meet.

Nor is Internet access universal; only 10 percent of households with annual incomes of $20,000 or less have access to the ‘Net.

Even if access was universal, the newspaper industry’s sad experience with the ‘Net shows people aren’t so much interested in reading online as they are in simply snatching bits of information.

Public libraries long have been and will remain vital components of our social, educational and business communities. We need to give them the support they need to help build the foundation of our future.

We urge a “yes” vote next month on Prop. 14.


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