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September 30, 2009 > Library opens up worlds of information

Library opens up worlds of information

By Dustin Findley

A library is a collection of materials managed and organized by a librarian who also analyzes and acquires available materials for the collection and catalogs and promotes them.

There are four different kinds of libraries - public, academic, school and special. Not all libraries are accessible because some collections are only available to specialist audiences.

"Purchasing decisions are based on analyses of the community the library serves and, of course, on budgets," said Linda Arbaugh, Milpitas Public Library Community Librarian.

A librarian must also ensure fair and equitable availability of materials to community members. A system of fines exists to that end. It is not a punitive measure but encourages borrowers to return items punctually so the next person has a chance to access that material.

"We want the public to take advantage of the resources we have. The Dewey Decimal cataloging system is not perfect but, for this sized library, it works quite well," Arbaugh said.

According to Arbaugh, libraries first appeared when "someone recognized a social need to have their records in one place." They evolved from collections of handwritten materials, to printing press, which made books more widely accessible at much lower costs, to the advent of computers. Libraries are one of the most popular government services, historically, second only to firefighters.

Television was an alarm call. Libraries had to change their modus operandi and offer more to retain and attract new members for fear of losing them to TV for their entertainment.

The 1950s saw a drive to recruit librarians with masters' degrees and to encourage existing librarians to attain these higher educational standards. Collections branched out, adding such items as magazines and contemporary musical media ranging from records to cassettes to CDs.

"We're right behind the cutting edge. Santa Clara County Library (system) is fortunate to have the money to do that," Arbaugh said.

Staff monitors trends and if something is recognized as a resource people will want, the library will develop its collection of that material. Santa Clara County voters approved a parcel tax of which $5M goes to Santa Clara County Library, whose total budget is about $30M, to purchase materials and not for staff or administration costs.

To reduce waiting times for bestselling materials, the library procures many copies. Moreover, people see they receive value for and direct benefit from their parcel tax dollars.

All Santa Clara County libraries use some of the money to develop their collection of foreign language materials to cater to the many people for whom English is not their first language. Meeting this need can be a challenge.

For example, a Vietnamese librarian knows the language, literature and sources and catalogs the material once it is received. It is more difficult to acquire materials for, say, Arabic. Often, only general material is available in a given language, particularly Asian languages.

Libraries are great equalizers, ways of promoting lifelong learning, "community living rooms" in which to gather, study, learn and acquire information.

"The real value of libraries is that...it's very democratic. Everybody has a chance to have access to the information" Arbaugh said. "We fill a need."

In future, there will be more remote access via home computer. Many of the library's databases are accessible remotely, others only on-site. There are databases about genealogy, automotive, magazines, journal articles, animals, countries, states, etc. Librarians constantly find new ways, such as Instant Messaging and Twitter, to answer questions because not everyone wants to queue or call to ask a question. The library's website has an "Ask Us" link.

"Our challenge is to get the word out about these resources," said Arbaugh.

About 45 percent of Milpitas Library's patrons are from Fremont and San Jose. To ensure fairness, the state Transaction Based Reimbursement (TBR) program reimburses the library for lending material to borrowers outside its jurisdiction. The state library will give money to Santa Clara County Library for being a "net lender" to encourage each library to offer free library cards.

"Since we've such a good library system and have much that people want... Our library benefits from that program much more than any other in the whole state" Arbaugh said.

Money to support the library comes from property tax, parcel tax, TBR, grants, other smaller state funds like the Public Library Fund (PLF) and from fines. Personnel accounts for 66 percent of the library's budget compared with 77 percent of the City of Milpitas' budget.

Milpitas Public Library is the City's busiest public building with a daily average of 2,500 visitors. It is 20 percent busier at its new location.

Arbaugh feels very fortunate to live in a city where civic leaders support the values for which libraries stand. They recognized the need for the $39M building and associated parking financed with redevelopment monies. The City also provides funding to maintain library opening hours.

Santa Clara County Library Milpitas Library
160 N. Main Street
Milpitas
(408) 262 1171

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