Save Salinas Public Libraries

Tuesday, April 12
Salinas residents traveled to California State Capitol to demand fully-funded, thriving libraries

On Tuesday, April 12, some 100 residents from the hometown of John Steinbeck, including dozens of schoolchildren and farmworkers with books in hand, traveled to Sacramento to demand a solution to the pending closure of their public libraries.  They met with public officials and delivered more than 8,500 signatures on petitions calling on lawmakers to find the funds needed to keep the three public libraries open in their blue-collar agricultural community. 

The group continued the “Read-In” that they had held for 24 hours in Salinas on April 2-3, this time at the Capitol steps, with children, parents and supporters reading excerpts from their favorite books. They held a press conference with chairman of the assembly budget committee Simon Salinas and assemblyman John Laird, Salinas Action League organizer Robin Cohen, CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, librarian Eli Edwards, and two Salinas children Virginia Perez and Carlos Castro. Afterwards, they went through the capitol, meeting with state representatives.

The day's biggest disappointment was at the governor's office. For the past two months, the group had asked for a meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger, but the governor has been “too busy”. When the group traveled all the way to the capitol, they had a hard time even meeting with a staffperson. After an hour of standing outside the governor's office, books in hand, the group was promised a meeting with the governor's constituent liaisons—but they would only meet with two Salinas representatives. “We really wanted to meet with the governor himself,” said Marina Gomez, who had traveled to Salinas with her husband and three children, and was one of the two reps meeting with the governor's aides. “I told his aides that my family uses the libraries all the time, and it would be tragic for us if they closed. We asked for the governor's help to find the $3 million to keep the libraries open.”

If the libraries shut down, Salinas would become the most populous American municipality without a public library.  Local fundraising efforts have raised $500,000, but this money will only allow the libraries to be open for one day a week through the end of this year, with no extra funds for new books, magazine subscriptions, or literacy programs.  “We have to do better than that,” said Robin Cohen of the Salinas Action League. “Salinas has one of the highest crime rates in the state.  The closure of public libraries will deny our youth a safe, welcoming place to spend the hours after school, and that would be disastrous.”
Salinas is one of hundreds of communities throughout the United States whose libraries are facing severe cutbacks or elimination. According to the American Library Association, projected and announced library funding cuts have topped $111.2 million in the last 18 months, and almost every single state in the U.S. is facing library funding cuts of up to 50 percent.
One of the groups that organized the trip to Sacramento, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is highlighting the fact that there is always money available for war but not for our schools and libraries. “Something is terribly awry when Salinas taxpayers have spent $83.5 million on the Iraq war, but they don't have the $3 million needed to keep the libraries open,” said CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin.

“We are calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to take a leadership role in finding an equitable long-term solution to keep the Salinas libraries open and to ensure a thriving public library system throughout the state,” says Peter Kwiek of the Salinas Action League.
The group plans to continue organizing and mobilizing to save their libraries.  “We'll be back with even more people next time,” they promised, as they got back on the bus and headed for Salinas at the end of long day.

Save Salinas Public Libraries - Action Alert for April 12

Historic Read-in to Save Public Libraries
The Salinas 24-Hour Emergency Read-In
Chicken Soup for the Soul
By Medea Benjamin, Sunday, April 3, 2005

In the wee hours of the night, about 5 am, that I looked around and tears came to my eyes. We were now on the fifteenth hour of the 24-Hour Emergency Read-In...