Our right to read is safe in El Cerrito

Right To Read Day, April 24, 2023. Protect Your Freedom to Read.

Last month, the American Library Association designated April 24 as “Right to Read Day.”

They did this in order to emphasize that, despite political pressure, it is important for all of us to advocate for everyone’s freedom to read widely.

We are fortunate that here in El Cerrito we are not facing this kind of pressure from narrow-minded individuals and groups who are afraid of diverse viewpoints.

Truly, in El Cerrito, the Bay Area, and in most of California the impulse to such censorship is rare.

In El Cerrito our greatest problem regarding availability of diverse materials is not banned books. It is the small size of our El Cerrito library that limits what folks can encounter while browsing the shelves for materials that might interest them.

Fortunately our City Council, the Friends of the El Cerrito Library, our Library Foundation and many enthusiastic Library supporters are working to change this situation by advocating for a new 21st century library of adequate size to serve the growing El Cerrito community.

We will keep you up to date on developments regarding a new library with occasional news reports from the Foundation. If you know of others who might be interested in keeping track of this project, direct them to our Foundation web site at: https://eclibraryfoundation.org where they can sign up for breaking news as our BART Plaza Station Library project gathers momentum.

Michael Fischer’s comments to the City Council about libraries on this National Library Week

The following comment was emailed to the City Council before their meeting on April 18, 2023, when the council passed a resolution on National Library Week for April 23-29, 2023.

I’m Michael Fischer and I have the honor and responsibility of being El Cerrito’s Library Commissioner.  This year and last I have been chair of the Contra Costa County Library Commissioner.  I am proud to serve both the community which truly loves its library and a city council and staff that strongly supports its library.

Next week, as the council will note tonight, is National Library Week — a time to celebrate our nation’s libraries, library workers’ contributions and promote library use and support. Our love for libraries was put very succinctly by J.K. Rowling when she attributed to Hermione the statement, “When in doubt, go to the library.”  Sometime earlier than Harry Potter, Albert Einstein said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” That answers the where question.

The answer to the why question is illustrated by the theme for National Library Week 2023 —”There’s More to the Story,” illustrating the fact that in addition to the books in library collections, available in a variety of formats, libraries offer so much more. Many libraries now lend items like museum passes, games, musical instruments, and tools. Library programming brings communities together for entertainment, education, and connection through book clubs, story times, movie nights, crafting classes, and lectures. And library infrastructure advances communities, providing internet and technology access, literacy skills, and support for businesses, job seekers, and entrepreneurs.

When El Cerrito celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017, one of the events was a poetry reading at the library by then California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia.  He made a pledge that he would, as Poet Laureate, visit all 58 counties in California and in each county he chose to give his presentation at a local library.  He chose the library, he said, because it is the one place where everyone is welcome.  Or, as Neil Gaiman said last week when he received the St. Louis Literary Award, “A library is the only public space that doesn’t expect you to spend money.”

But, while we’re on the subject of spending money, a library is not free in the financial sense.  You cannot build a library some 75 years in the past, do a small renovation some 12 years later, and expect it to serve the needs of today’s population.  We’ve grown over 40% in population since 1948.  And the services of a library today, as briefly mentioned above, are also greater and take up more space.  Most modern libraries have meeting rooms.  Ours does not.

If you want to see what a 21st Century library looks like, there are a few in our county — San Ramon, Brentwood, and Pleasant Hill to name the most recently built ones.  El Cerrito deserves no less.  Some of us who love our library and want to make it what it truly should be have formed a group to work with the city in bringing this dream to reality.  We anticipate that there is likely to be a ballot measure on the March 2024 ballot to fund a new library as part of the transit oriented development that is taking place at the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station.  If you’d like to join us in working on this endeavor, write to the Committee for a Plaza Station Library (El Cerrito) at C4PSLEC@gmail.com and we’ll get in touch with you.  Seventy-five percent of our residents in the just released community survey from our City Manager rated this new library as Medium or High Priority, the highest of any of the potential facilities mentioned.  We can do this — and I look forward to working with all El Cerritans.

Yes, it will take money.  Worthwhile things usually do.  Walter Cronkite, famed news anchor, put it this way: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

I’d also like to talk about the role of libraries in terms of freedom of information.  We are finding, principally in regard to public school libraries but also at community libraries, efforts to prevent information from being available to all our patrons.  Neil Gaiman, again, notes, “Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

Others have expressed similar thoughts:

Librarian Jo Godwin notes, “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”

And novelist Sarah J Mass says, “Libraries are full of ideas, perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons.”

Whatever else the computer and internet age has brought us, it is clear that we have moved from eons of information scarcity to an era of what might be called information glut.  One of my jokes is that you can find many answers to any question on the internet, and one of them may actually be correct.

According to Eric Schmidt of Google, in just two days currently the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003.  (This quote is somewhat dated so it is probably more now.)  The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle.

And that brings me to the last subject I want to talk about — the who of libraries — namely our librarians and other library staff.  They have the magic that can make it all work.  Most libraries have these magicians — and we in El Cerrito are most fortunate to have true wizards.  They’re the reason that El Cerrito, by no means the largest library in the West County nor the largest city,  has the largest patronage of any library in the West County.  Stop in to our library and let the staff know you appreciate them.  And National Library Week is a good time to do this — as is any other time of the year.

What do these magicians do?

Neil Gaiman notes that Google can bring you back 100,000 answers.  A librarian can bring you back the right one.

Thank you.

Michael Fischer

El Cerrito Designated Library Commissioner

Chair, Contra Costa County Library Commission

Secretary, Library Foundation of Contra Costa County

Parliamentarian/Board Member, Friends of the El Cerrito Library

Honorary Board Member, El Cerrito Library Foundation

El Cerrito celebrates National Library Week

National Library Week Poster "More to the Story"

El Cerrito Mayor Lisa Motoyama issued a proclamation recently declaring the week of April 23 – 29 as National Library Week in our community.

So what does this mean for all of the rest us?

Well, it means that if we haven’t visited our Library recently, we should stop by our tiny and rather antiquated library at 6510 Stockton Ave. (almost under the BART tracks) and reintroduce ourselves to the outstanding services and programs that our Library offers despite a very limiting building. Because of the small facility and very popular programs, many programs are “standing room only.”

It would also be a good time to stop by and thank our hard-working Library Staff for the dedicated, enthusiastic service they provide all year long.

Some of us will probably bring over a tray of brownies, a box of chocolates, or other token of thanks for their efforts to help us be better people and a better community in so many ways!

And, if we really want to celebrate the many things that vital libraries and librarians bring to El Cerrito, we need to rededicate ourselves to the exciting opportunity to have a modern, appropriately sized, 21st Century library as a part of the BART station project near the El Cerrito Plaza. Your Library Foundation supports this project as the best opportunity to get a new Library built in El Cerrito in our lifetimes!

In the weeks ahead we plan to continue to provide information about community efforts to bring into being a new library for El Cerrito that will make us proud to be citizens of our community.

Text image: We help bring people and ideas together.

El Cerrito Library basement floods destroy books

The old El Cerrito library is tired and overdue for replacement. Torrential rainstorms in the past several weeks have proven this need in yet another sad way!

The Friends of the El Cerrito Library support group accepts book donations from patrons who wish to donate books they no longer need. The Friends then evaluate the donations and offer those that are in good condition at periodic book sales at the Library. Some especially valuable books are sold online. Funds raised from these sales go directly to support library programs and new materials. Most of these programs and materials are for children and their families.

The good donated books are stored in the basement of the Library until a sale is held.

The latest disappointment for the Friends was during a recent torrential rainstorm when there was flooding in the basement of the Library due either to inadequate maintenance of storm drains or simply the fact that the rain and wind were too severe for the drains to work properly. The picture below illustrates some of the many waterlogged books that were ruined beyond reclamation. As you can see, they had to go to the landfill since they could not be saved, recycled, or sold.

Water damaged hardcover books in trash can.

A new Library with adequate, above ground storage space for the Friends books would guarantee that such a tragedy is not repeated at a new Library. We will keep you informed of progress toward a new, modern, safe Library with occasional news reports from the Foundation. If you know of others who might be interested, direct them to our Foundation web site at:  https://eclibraryfoundation.org/

Text: We Help Bring People And Ideas Together