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Californians are privileged in many ways, but few are aware that they have a real treasure in their public libraries. That’s why I became very concerned when I found out about Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to eliminate $30.4 millions in library funds. This cut could result in libraries having fewer hours; fewer books, higher fees. It could even result in library closures.
As a Sacramento reporter, I know what a fiscal mess the state’s been in for the last three years. I know that the state really needs to finds savings in every corner of the administration. However, I can’t avoid feeling bad for the libraries. Governor Brown says that everybody in the state will fight the cuts that impact them the most. I personally feel impacted by the cuts to the libraries.
Days after I immigrated to this country, I went to the library. As I wandered through the aisles of the deliciously cozy San Carlos library in the San Francisco peninsula, I felt like a child playing with a brand new toy, lost in wonder. I could not believe I could bring home books, CDs and movies. I never had that option in Mexico. We had wonderful libraries, especially in the big cities, but people couldn’t take books home. I used the libraries in Mexico as a place to study alone or in a group. When I came to the U.S., I couldn’t believe that I could borrow books from other libraries in the county, and that I could eve ask a librarian to buy a book. I could not believe that I did not have to pay anything, and that I received an alert via e-mail to return books and materials on time. And you are not going to believe this, but I have never met a library employee who was in bad mood. They are always eager to help.
As an avid reader, I have become a library addict. The knowledge that libraries’ services could be reduced troubles me. Not only because I can’t afford to buy all the books I currently borrow from the library, but because it will affect so many other library patrons. Most library users, especially in counties like Sacramento, aren’t rich — not even upper-middle class. They are poor or low middle class, whose only opportunity to get a book, use the computer, access the internet, or even read a newspaper is through the public library. Some libraries offer literacy tutoring to illiterate adults. (Will that program be cut?)
I am concerned about the future of public libraries. In their books, I have found refuge, knowledge and happiness. Library books have enriched my life, and I bet they have enriched the lives of millions. As an immigrant, I greatly appreciate them because I did not have them in my home country.
For children and students, libraries complement their education. For adults, libraries are an opportunity for life-long learning. I know that California is in financial trouble, but for many people public libraries are the only path to self improvement.
A 30.4 million dollar cut —won’t fix California’s budget — but it will rob people of the greatest treasure of all: education.
Edited by Maria Ginsbourg, Journalism graduate from San Francisco State University
Araceli Martínez Ortega is a Mexican journalist who has lived in California in the last nine years. This collaboration is about her personal journey through Las Americas and wherever she goes.