Come November Stanislaus County voters will have an opportunity to show their support for the county's 13 library branches when Measure S appears on the ballot.
Measure S is the countywide renewal of an eighth-cent sales tax that for numerous years now has made up a significant portion of the library's operating budget. For the first time, voters will be asked to extend the renewal for 12 years, rather than the five in previous elections.
On May 16, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved placing Measure S on the ballot for November.
Stanislaus County Library Director Donna McDonnell appeared before the Ceres City Council on Monday with the Ceres Librarian Anne-Marie Montgomery in tow. She requested the council's endorsement of Measure S which was granted.
"As you know, we have an outstanding library system here in Stanislaus County," McDonnell told the council, "and the library is the most used and visited public resource in our county. Last year, 1.2 million people walked through library doors and 1.8 million items were checked out."
She said the library listens to what the public wants in their library. In addition to expanding the ebook collection, new electronic resources have been added, such as downloadable audio books, magazines, movies and music. The library system also offers an online language learning resource "where you can learn virtually any language on earth from the comfort of home."
Public computers are offered at all 13 libraries as well as offers free WiFi.
Other services include passport applications at Modesto and Salida libraries, a new self-service library at the Juvenile Justice Center, a veteran's resource center at the the Modesto library.
"As an addition to our vast book collection we're now connected to the Link+ interlibrary loan service. With Link+ you can search the catalogues of almost 100 libraries throughout California and Nevada and the requested materials will arrive at your local library at no charge."
McDonnell said childhood literacy has been a key focus of the library. In the 2015-16 year there were 1,100 Story Time events, with 34,931 children and parents/guardians attending.
Mobile library services are brought to the WIC office on Hackett Road.
"While families are waiting for WIC services, library staff shares stories with children, check out books, issue new library cards and help educate parents about the importance of reading to their children," said McDonnell.
She said the library system is at risk of closure if Measure S is not passed. The existing tax provides 89 percent of the library funding in the county.
Early polling suggests there is support for the renewal of the eighth-cent sales tax, but it will take a two-thirds majority to pass.
Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd had some strong words for those who don't support the continuation of the tax.
"If you don't support the library tax, you're an idiot because libraries are more important than anything than anything I can think of that you pay taxes for, other than fire and police," said Shepherd. "If you've never been to a library, there's something wrong with you."
The eighth-cent sales tax began in 1995 when budget shortfalls seriously cut the library system's operations and hours. Subsequent measures were passed in 1999, 2004, and 2012. The current renewal will expire July 1, 2018. The 12-year renewal will allow for the library to do more long-term planning for projects and improvements.
For the 2015-16 fiscal year, the revenue generated from the eighth-cent sales tax funded 89 percent of the library system's budget, according to the Stanislaus County Library Annual Report. The remaining 14 percent came from state and federal allocations (two percent), local contributions (six percent) and an allotment from the county's general fund (six percent).
"Since 1995, when it was first approved by more than two-thirds of Stanislaus County voters, this tiny sales tax has kept our libraries open through some pretty tough times," as stated by the Save Stanislaus Libraries campaign.
The eighth-cent sales tax amounts to about $18 per person and is a dedicated tax, so it cannot be used for any other expenses or projects.
Even in a growing digital culture, libraries continue to play a vital role in the community. According to the American Library Association, more Americans visit school, public and academic libraries three times as often as going to the movies. In the 2015-16 year there were 410,442 library cardholders in Stanislaus County and more than 2.3 million visitors to the various branches, according to the annual report.
The library also has been expanding their digital 24/7 access over the last few years. It now includes eResources of digital books, magazines, audiobooks, language learning tools, movies and music. There were more than 52,000 eBooks and 12,000 eAudiobooks circulated in Stanislaus County libraries in 2015-16.
The official support Measure S campaign kicks off this month, though it is actively seeking volunteers. To volunteer or for more information visit www.savestanislauslibraries.org.