Libraries Never a Priority, Expert Says

 

More than 30 years ago, the state hired Robert Rohlf, a consultant based in Minnesota, to evaluate the San Diego city and county library systems. He recommended consolidating the two departments into one at least in part because of budget pressures. It didn’t happen.

Now, the city’s library system remains one of the first targets when city leaders need big budget cuts. Last month, Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed hacking already reduced branch library hours to 18.5 a week to help plug next year’s deficit. City Council members have made clear those reductions won’t happen, but Sanders’ plan highlights the department’s continued withering.

Rohlf says he has returned to San Diego three times since his first report, most recently last year to examine the building of the new downtown central library. We turned to Rohlf, who has consulted on more than 300 library projects, to help understand the history of San Diego libraries.

Is there any sort of trend that has stood out in your mind when you’ve evaluated the city library system?

The one thing that was clear to me is that the library has never been on the high list of being financially supported compared to libraries of their population size across the United States. They’re below the average in their financial support by at least 10 percent or more.

What were the reasons that were given to you for that?

I don’t know if there were any ever given to me. Just that that’s the way it’s been supported in San Diego. It’s kind of been up and down. It’s surprising how many libraries are better supported when you take a look at them. For example, Miami. I would never think that Miami would be a higher supported library than San Diego on a per capita basis, but it is.

Is there a way out for San Diego with respect to its library system?

I don’t know the way out for them because all I keep reading about is the terrible financial situation the city is in and has been in for some time. They’re not just picking on libraries. It’s everything.

The remedy is painful because you only have so much money. The only caution I would say is don’t dilute the service so much that you don’t have any service left to give.

In your first report from the early ’80s you had talked about consolidating the county and city libraries. Is that still something that’s a reasonable option?

I think it is a reasonable option. It’s happening all over the country. For example, Minneapolis just merged with the Hennepin County library, which surrounded it. It’s somewhat similar to San Diego. The county did it essentially to save the city financially.

Is there anything else you want to add or emphasize at all?

I don’t envy the financial situation the city is in. I just think I should caution: Do not put so much water in the soup, so to speak, that there is no more substance left. I think if they’re going to have to cut the library, and I would hope they wouldn’t, that they think carefully about how they do it and not just whack everything the same amount.

Interview conducted and edited by Liam Dillon, who can be reached at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

 

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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12 comments
David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

And you can start collecting my trash so I don't have to pay for private trash collection through my HOA fee!!

fryefan
fryefan

And you can start collecting my trash so I don't have to pay for private trash collection through my HOA fee!!

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

People should at LEAST pay for their entertainment. EVEN the Chargers make you pay to attend, even if the facilities are subsidized.

Akamai
Akamai

People should at LEAST pay for their entertainment. EVEN the Chargers make you pay to attend, even if the facilities are subsidized.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

I don't play golf and never will, but I think a healthy City needs to have reasonably-priced golfing available for those who can't afford country club membership. But then again, America's [insert whatever delusion suits you] City" is sick, with an unfavorable prognosis.

fryefan
fryefan

I don't play golf and never will, but I think a healthy City needs to have reasonably-priced golfing available for those who can't afford country club membership. But then again, America's [insert whatever delusion suits you] City" is sick, with an unfavorable prognosis.

John H Borja
John H Borja subscriber

The political atmosphere in wealthy circles is that viable forms to pay for services victimizes this group. And, yet, logic has no place with this group that dictates politics in San Diego and San Diego County. These people are NOT for pay as you go, but pay less and get as much away with it as possible and make the scheme pro-America. Any philosophy different is considered and advertised as unpatriotic. The truth is that this "core" of political moneyed constituents, actually, will eventually, if not already, contribute to the economic decline of a really great place to live. Their selfishness and paranoia will prove detrimental to the growth and wellbeing of a truly great living environment. We all need to pay for services. They want to negotiate a discount. Not good.

kidscoach
kidscoach

The political atmosphere in wealthy circles is that viable forms to pay for services victimizes this group. And, yet, logic has no place with this group that dictates politics in San Diego and San Diego County. These people are NOT for pay as you go, but pay less and get as much away with it as possible and make the scheme pro-America. Any philosophy different is considered and advertised as unpatriotic. The truth is that this "core" of political moneyed constituents, actually, will eventually, if not already, contribute to the economic decline of a really great place to live. Their selfishness and paranoia will prove detrimental to the growth and wellbeing of a truly great living environment. We all need to pay for services. They want to negotiate a discount. Not good.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Yep, we're a cheap bunch that should just bend over......not.

mgland
mgland

Yep, we're a cheap bunch that should just bend over......not.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

America's "Finest" City (what a laugher that is) has fewer police per capita than most similar cities, fewer firestations per capita and per square mile than most similar cities, more potholes and cracked roads per mile than . . . well, you get the point. It also has more self-back-slappers per capita than it deserves--congratulating themselves for keeping taxes low (Yes--they are comparatively low, no matter how much you complain about how much you pay!) and for having the foresight to have beaches and decent weather but feeling victimized by everyone who isn't them. It is pathological, it, is damaging, and we need to stop doing it.

fryefan
fryefan

America's "Finest" City (what a laugher that is) has fewer police per capita than most similar cities, fewer firestations per capita and per square mile than most similar cities, more potholes and cracked roads per mile than . . . well, you get the point. It also has more self-back-slappers per capita than it deserves--congratulating themselves for keeping taxes low (Yes--they are comparatively low, no matter how much you complain about how much you pay!) and for having the foresight to have beaches and decent weather but feeling victimized by everyone who isn't them. It is pathological, it, is damaging, and we need to stop doing it.