On Monday, the Santa Cruz City Council stepped in to rethink a proposed plan by the Santa Cruz Libraries’ Joint Powers Board to close the historic Garfield Park branch library on the Westside.
A local landmark, the Garfield Park branch was erected in 1915 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992.
The possibility of closure has been met with resistance. Westside residents and community members denounce the shuddering of the beloved site due to county library budget shortfalls, which still maintains its original fireplace and painting from nearly a century ago.
Their efforts included a May 8 candlelight vigil in front of the library to mourn the potential loss of the historical landmark.
“The Garfield library is approaching its 100th anniversary as a neighborhood branch library,” a local resident who attened the vigil said. “Previous generations struggled through various obstacles, such as Prop. 13, to keep it open for us, and we owe it to the children of today to maintain that.”
Residents also contend that the branch serves the entire Westside of Santa Cruz as well as Bonny Doon and Davenport.
After listening to over 50 residents from Santa Cruz County, the councilmembers and the Library Joint Powers Board made the decision to try to keep options open for now and to not close any of the branches. The most popular scenario the board members came up with consisted of continuing to issue furloughs, cut staff, limit the book budget, and limit the hours each library is open.
Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin said that it would be best to look at all the options to create more flexibility before making a concrete resolution.
“We can mix and match the five options we received from our staff to get a result that works within the budget and fixes the deficit,” Rotkin said.
The librarians began cutting costs earlier this year on February 6 by taking off 10 percent of their salary in order to reserve funds for the library, but it has not been enough to keep it running under the budget cuts.
Library director Susan Elgin said that closing the smaller library branches would not be enough to tend to the new budget constraints. Elgin said the board would need to save an additional $565,000 to keep things running.
In June, the board will decide whether or not to close more library branches, excluding the regional branches of Central, Scotts Valley, Live Oak and Aptos libraries.
Diane Cowen, the Garfield library’s branch manager, is particularly concerned about the loss of jobs. The Library Joint Powers Board is currently preparing a seniority list for the librarians, but temporary library pages — who perform manual and clerical duties such as book reshelving — will be completely cut.
“We [the librarians] will probably land elsewhere because of our seniority, but someone down the line is going to get bumped,” Cowen said. “Eventually someone somewhere will lose a job.”
Members of the community in the Westside of Santa Cruz responded to the proposed closure by getting together to inform citizens and to convince the Library Joint Powers Board and the City Council to keep the library open.
A public letter-writing campaign was set up on May 6 at the Garfield Park Library for community members to express their concern over the closure and to converse with some of the board members who visited.
Cowen said she was pleased with the turnout and with the passion community members showed for the library.
“I have never seen the library so packed,” Cowen said. “There were kids, teens, and adults all participating.”
Because many people in the Garfield Park area were not informed by the Library Joint Powers Board, Linda Snook, protest organizer and mother of three, has been gathering and informing community members since the decision was first proposed.
“By word of mouth and, of course, e-mail, we were able to gather about 50 people at my home on Monday for an organizational meeting,” Snook said.
The neighborhood residents have really shown that they are not ready to give up their library and their hard work has finally paid off.
“[The Garfield Park library] is many things to many people: a place to read, e-mail, do homework, find knitting patterns,” Snook said. “It is a community center, a meeting place. It is not something we can afford to close.”