Five years ago this month, Sonoma County voters overwhelmingly said “yes” to one of the most trusted and beloved institutions in the country, the free public library.
By a 72% margin, voters approved Measure Y, a one-eighth of a cent sales tax to support the Sonoma County Library. In the past five years since November 2016, the sales tax has made an extraordinary impact on the library’s ability to serve almost half a million people in Sonoma County.
This vote of confidence by the people of Sonoma County completely transformed our library system, and the additional revenue has allowed us to make tremendous improvements in our programming, collections, technology, facilities and staffing.
Before Measure Y, the Sonoma County Library struggled. Chronically underfunded, the 14-branch countywide system was understaffed, and had not fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The library closed Mondays, cut evening and weekend hours, and reduced costs everywhere, but it wasn’t enough.
We knew that you love your library, so we decided to ask you for support. You shared our vision of a 21st Century library system and Measure Y was successful.
Immediately, your library system began keeping the promises of Measure Y, to increase access; expand collections, programs and services; and maintain library facilities.
By early 2020, the changes to our operations and services were visible and impressive. Then, along came a worldwide pandemic.
Like other agencies, we shut our doors to protect our community and our staff, and we pivoted to a virtual environment, reallocating funds to digital resources and technology that would allow us to keep serving our patrons.
There were notable accomplishments during the pandemic: we won a statewide award for the Sonoma Responds memory archive program, that collected your responses to the pandemic; we opened a new temporary Roseland Regional Library this year, a huge benefit for Southwest Santa Rosa, paid for by Measure Y funds.
As I write this, COVID-19 is still here. The county is on a pandemic rollercoaster, with headlines careening from “Cases Are Up” to “Cases Are Down” on a regular basis.
At the library, we are optimistic and planning ahead. We are open six days a week at all branches (plus Sundays at Central Library in Santa Rosa), and we plan to increase our hours to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.
Plus, by summer 2022, we will open Sundays at all regional libraries, a long-held dream for the library and the community.
We’re investing in library buildings, and will invest millions more in the years ahead. If you want to help us plan building improvements, please take our Facilities Master Plan survey at sonomalibrary.org/facilities2021.
We are also in the first year of an ambitious “Reimagining the Library” process. Watch for innovative programs, services and initiatives that take us further out into the community, like our new BibilioBus and BiblioBike, the beginnings of a modest fleet of outreach vehicles and programs. All this and more is made possible by the investment you made when you supported Measure Y.
As we “reimagine” ourselves, we are taking a long look at how and why we provide services. Extensive community outreach tells us that you want us to provide opportunities for all to learn, contribute, interact and participate; support community resiliency; and foster racial equity, social justice and inclusion.
We are grateful for your support, and honored to meet these big, challenging, and worthwhile tasks head-on, with your good will and continued investment in your public library system.
Ann Hammond is the Sonoma County Library Director.