To the Editor: Why do libraries matter?

Does a county-funded library affect the literacy of its citizens? Why does it matter? In 2005 Bakersfield entered the list of cities evaluated for literacy by Central Connecticut State University. And that year Bakersfield started its decline to the bottom of the list, so that in 2017 it ranked just above Laredo, Texas, as the least literate city in the United States. It has languished among the bottom-dwellers for nearly a decade.

So what? Well, library resources are one of six factors used to evaluate literacy, and in Kern County our Board of Supervisors has, year after year, cut library funding to balance the county budget. The reasons are many, but the results are terrible. An illiterate populace is no basis on which to build a new economy, one not dependent on extracting oil or water from our depleted ground resources. We need a new economy and a smarter, better educated citizenry, and better libraries are an integral part of this new economic equation. That’s why it matters.

Thanks to a 2017 California Supreme Court decision, citizen-generated initiatives to increase local funding for needed services no longer require a 66-percent majority to become law; a simple majority will do. A new group (LIFE: Library Initiative For Everyone) has arisen in Bakersfield to place a one-eighth of a cent (0.125 percent) levy on taxable sales. Petitions are now circulating to get this matter on the November 2018 ballot. If passed, the funds generated will be fenced for library use only, to augment (and not replace) funds allocated by the Kern County general fund. In other words, it will be a real increase in library funding for the first time in more than 10 years.

Sufficient signatures must be gathered before the end of June to get on the 2018 ballot. All citizens with a dog in this fight should get involved: Parents, teachers, book clubs, employers — any registered voter living in Kern County should help by signing a petition and by helping to circulate petitions. If you are such a person, give me a call (760-446-6876) and we’ll get you signed up. There is no better cause, and the time is now.

David L. Burdick

Story First Published: 2018-06-15