Story January 27, 2022

Underfunded libraries are critical infrastructure

LibraryFoundationSD CEO Patrick Stewart

The Voice of San Diego recently published an opinion piece I authored in response to Mayor Gloria’s State of the City address. I encourage you to visit the Voice to read the piece. And, if you did not get a chance to see the mayor’s remarks, follow the video below to watch the online watch party of Mayor Todd Gloria’s 2022 State of the City address. 

The watch party was hosted in collaboration with Friends of the San Diego Public Library President Joan Reese and Library Board of Commissioners Chair Wendy Urushima-Conn. Prior to the mayor’s remarks, we discussed the coming difficult budget year and how you can help protect Library services.

After hearing the mayor’s remarks, the critical need for our advocacy efforts are even more clear. I encourage all library supporters to let their elected leaders know how important the library is to them. Learn more here.

The mayor listed investments in infrastructure, policing and public safety, and tools to address homelessness and housing as his administration’s top 2022 priorities. I agree with the mayor that to be America’s Finest City and truly be great, we must all feel safe, have access to housing, and know that as our city grows, our roads, water, and other tangible assets are modern and capable of managing such growth.

Libraries, Parks, and Neighborhood Services are Critical Infrastructure

What is missing in this vision are investments in the types of services that, when well-funded and managed, create avenues to safety, health, and economic development. What was missing was a vision and plan to invest in what makes our communities great places to live – our neighborhood services.

Libraries and Parks Face Large Maintenance Backlogs and Operating Shortfalls

City Council leaders recognize libraries and parks as critical infrastructure. But, recent budgets do not reflect the increasing demands for services.

A recent city-commissioned report showed San Diego needs to invest a minimum of $200 million in its parks to meet basic health and safety standards.
The Library Master Plan framework identified a $50 million library maintenance backlog. This figure does not even include the costs for bringing San Diego’s older facilities into code compliance or long-overdue needs to expand spaces to meet community needs.
Beyond crippling maintenance needs, ongoing operating budget shortfalls have not allowed city libraries or parks to achieve their potential. For example, it is difficult for the library to fully impact reading, literacy, and educational achievement when its annual books and materials budget is among the lowest in the nation among metropolitan library systems, according to the Library Master Plan framework.

Investments in Social Infrastructure Pay Dividends

Lack of access to core educational services, economic and job development resources, and safe green spaces and recreation centers are cited time and time again as important contributing factors to crime and incarceration rates. These are precisely the critical services provided by our libraries and parks. Significant peer-reviewed evidence shows the return on investments in social infrastructure, including:

Reducing crime, boosting school success, and creating connections to jobs and economic sustainability. Baltimore has turned to libraries to understand and stop the root causes of crime. Research from the Every Library Institute shows how libraries impact reading and literacy skills – and ultimately reduce crime. Libraries and librarians are more often on the frontlines of homeless support than they ever have been. A local partnership between San Diego Public Library and San Diego Workforce Partnership also provides resources, skills boosting, and connections to local job seekers.

It does not benefit San Diegans to perennially present an either/​or funding model for our city. Now is the time to recognize the long-term value, impact, and contribution to social well-being that meaningful investments in libraries and parks will have on our community.

Mayor is Correct: Well-Funded Libraries are a Reminder of the Importance of Investing in Traditionally Underserved Communities”

I stand with Gloria’s vision of San Diego’s ability to become a truly great American city. We must recognize a holistic approach to funding core services. Academic, social, and cultural investments stem the flow of crime, create and promote economic activity, and frankly, make great communities.

Just last year, the mayor presented his 2021 State of the City address from the San Ysidro Library. He noted that this newest branch became among the system’s busiest before COVID and how library staff responded during COVID with outdoor computer labs and other crucial services.

He noted that the San Ysidro Library is a testament to what we can build together when we work together,” he added. This library, and what it means to this community, is a symbol of who we should be as a city. It is a beautiful reminder of the importance of investing in traditionally underserved neighborhoods.”

The mayor is right. Significant investments in institutions such as libraries and parks make the economic and social sense that will assist in making his vision a reality. I call on the mayor and the City Council to make these investments in neighborhood services a priority for 2022.