Story June 26, 2023

City budget fails to meet the library’s needs

Patrick Stewart, Library Foundation SD CEO

Every step of the way, our libraries and library staff have responded to community needs by providing world-class services and resources that change lives daily in every community.

Despite increased physical and mental challenges and critical understaffing, our libraries have continued to serve our communities — and serve them exceptionally well!.

Yet the adopted budget has let our library system down when the library system needs their support now more than ever.

The City Council approved, and the Mayor signed an FY24 budget that failed to include priorities outlined by the library. Hundreds of library advocates contacted their electeds to demand overdue investments in materials, maintenance, and funding to place a full-time Youth Services Librarian in every community.

Youth Service Librarians like Marika Jeffery are the cornerstone of education programs for children. Every library location deserves a full-time YSL.

We recognize city budgetary limitations. But there was additional funding available that was allocated in the final days of the budget’s approval. There was an opportunity to fund these overdue library needs. And, once again, the library and its advocates were forced to fight for breadcrumbs. Even though the three budget additions represented only 0.03% of the approved budget, the Mayor and Council fell short again and approved a budget that only added a one-time $250,000 increase in library materials spending.

During budget discussions two years ago, the Council noted it’s time to stop the systemic divestment in the library” and that the city must treat our libraries as the sacred spaces that they are and provide them the investments our libraries deserve.” This budget neither provides the investments needed to deliver on the promise to support a world-class library, nor brings an end to the divestment in our library system.

Our libraries cannot be expected to deliver the services, programs, and resources we rely on when:

  • SDPL’s per-capita operating budget is less than 70 percent of the California state average and well behind many of its urban library peers.
  • With more than $7.5 million budgeted for books and resources, the San Diego County’s library budget for books, materials, and e‑resources is more than three-and-a-half times larger than SDPL’s budget.
  • In this approved budget, SDPL’s security spending will be larger than its materials budget.
  • The library system has over $50 million in deferred maintenance issues and no maintenance budget to address them.

Every year, library advocates step up to let elected leaders know how important the library is to them and their community. We thank you for that. And we will ask you again in the future to speak up.

Our libraries cannot continue to be underfunded while elected officials praise the library for providing excellent service to San Diegans. Going forward, we must hold civic leaders publicly accountable. Look for the Library Foundation SD to begin presenting a scorecard on our elected leaders’ performance toward supporting the library system. This scorecard will become our accountability, transparency, and communication tool on whether words are backed by clear actions that invest in the soon-to-be-finalized Library Master Plan framework.

This budget is disheartening and particularly stinging on the heels of the recent incident at the Central Library. I hope our librarians and library workers know how much the community and patrons value their efforts.

As I wrote in a commentary in response to a shooting at the Central Library @ Joan Λ Irwin Jacobs: Know that despite the challenges, our library will be there for you and will, through creativity, innovation, and ingenuity, continue to be a place of opportunity, discovery, and inspiration for all of San Diego.”

Library staff makes their communities better each day in creative and life-changing ways despite significant challenges. We ask our Mayor and City Council to answer this challenge and deliver on their side of the bargain.