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February 19, 2013

Merced County Library system feels budget woes

Diane Satchwell said her choices are informed, as they always are, by funding.

"(It) is one of my challenges to figure out how to absorb some of the places that we're using redevelopment money," Satchwell said.

The Merced County Library received about $433,000 in funding from the Merced Redevelopment Agency, which was abolished a year ago. Since the budget for fiscal year 2010-11 expired, state, federal and local aid for the county library system has fallen by nearly $1 million.

The county librarian met with the Los Banos Friends of the Library on Wednesday to share her vision for Los Banos and other branches.

"The big question everybody (asks), 'Are you going to close any libraries?' " Satchwell said. "It's all really evaluating how many bodies you have, how much money you have to pay for the bodies.

"That's pretty much going to be the driver."

Cuts are nothing new to the Merced County branch libraries. Since 2010, Los Banos is open about 10 fewer hours per week. Hours of operation have been reduced by eight or more at each of the following branches: Atwater, Livingston, Gustine, Hilmar and Merced.

Satchwell said she is looking at a number of models for staffing the Los Banos branch because there is a vacancy for a library resource technician, who manages the location.

"I am very data-driven," she said. "I know -- everybody knows -- everybody loves the library. It's going to be my job to prove why we need to put money in the library."

Members of the Friends of the Los Banos Library have embraced the adult-literacy program, Satchwell said, and the group serves as a model for other branches.

The library needs technology upgrades, most of which are dependent on grant funding. Satchwell said it must offer computer-instructional classes and more stations for Internet and catalog access. The computers are used by jobseekers and by students doing homework.

"We have a ways to go," she said, adding that the county is a "prime" candidate for technology grants.

A statistic Los Banos can be proud of, she said, is its high turnover rate. The 25,452 items in the Los Banos collection are checked out 43,814 times, or about 1.72 times per year. That's triple the rate countywide.

Satchwell said she would like consistency across the system, so that all locations offer the same programs, libraries are open the same hours daily and policies generally look alike.

Satchwell was a library director in West Linn, Ore., where her circulation rate was 5.5.

"One of my goals is to figure out how also to have Merced look at the collection and have that circulation," She said.

Satchwell, originally from Laguna Beach, has held positions in the Oakland, San Diego, Murrieta and Orange County library systems.

Former County Librarian Jacquie Meriam retired in July. Satchwell took over Jan. 2.

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