Home Education Policy Should a small town library be turned into a police station?

Should a small town library be turned into a police station?

A small town in the Central Valley could convert its community library into a police station. The proposal has upset many residents who say that the library is vital for reading, homework, and community.

Education Beat is a weekly podcast hosted by EdSource’s Zaidee Stavely and produced by Coby McDonald.

Transcript:

Anne:
Welcome to Education Beat. I’m Anne Vasquez, executive director of EdSource. A small town in California’s Central Valley is thinking about turning its community library into a police station. That has many residents, and especially a lot of kids, very upset.

Jazmine:
I was honestly kind of mad that they were gonna like turn it into a police station because they already have one. And that’s like my and my friend’s place to hang out.

Anne:
Many public library systems in California are underfunded and rely on local budgets. The pandemic threw a wrench into the operating hours for libraries. Many are only open for just a few days a week. What happens when public libraries are at risk of closing? And what role do they play in students education and wellbeing? Here is this week’s Education Beat with host Zaidee Stavely.

Zaidee:
Jasmine Ciciliano is 12 years old. She’s in sixth grade. She lives in McFarland in the Central Valley. It’s a small town of about 14,000 people north of Bakersfield. It’s largely agricultural with crops like cotton, sugar, beets, grapes, and potatoes.

Jazmine:
My grandpa he has a rooster and some chickens.

Zaidee:
One of Jasmine’s favorite places to be is the town’s library, which is right across the street from an elementary school.

Jazmine:
I started using it around when I was six. My mom would take me to the library and we would get books and I would stay there and read, or I would check out.

Zaidee:
As she got older, Jasmine and her friends started going to the library after school.

Jazmine:
They have computers there and people who can’t take their computers home from school, they work on the computers. And me, myself I do my homework there sometimes. My friends, we kind of help each other when we have our homework and we just like work there in a group until we’re all done.

Zaidee:
They also do arts and crafts and they read books.

Jazmine:
It’s like our hangout spot, I guess. That’s like our safe space.

Zaidee:
So when Jasmine heard that the library might be turned into a police station, she was angry.

Jazmine:
Since I’ve been going since a very young age, it’s been a part of my life. And honestly, I’d just be sad if they tear it down, especially since they have a police station like right there.

Zaidee:
This is Education Beat getting to the heart of California schools. This week, should a library be turned into a police station? Jasmine isn’t the only one fired up about the proposal to turn the McFarland library into a police station. An online petition to keep the library open now has more than 1,600 signatures. My colleague Emma Gallegos wrote about the fight over the library for EdSource. She lives in Bakersfield and she first heard about the story when it was written about in the Bakersfield Californian. Then she went back and listened to the city council meetings where they had discussed closing the library.

Emma:
Some of the ways that people described the library, they said it’s dead. It’s barely open. There were complaints that kids were using the parking lot for skating. And that it was kind of like a dying building is one of the words that I heard used. And so when I went there, I was kind of nervous about what I was actually going to see there. I was like, are people gonna be using it? Is it gonna be like tumbleweeds?

Zaidee:
Emma went to visit. And when she pulled into the parking lot, there weren’t many cars. So she was thinking maybe it isn’t really used much. Then she went inside. It was not dead.

Emma:
This library was really bustling. The kids that I met up with, they said, you actually missed the rush. And I was like, this seems actually really crowded to me. So it was April fool’s day and the kids were making jester hats. There were kids wandering through the books, looking for something to read. The kids were going back and forth up to the desk, asking the the branch desk just all sorts of questions. There was a girl getting tutored in the back. There was so much going on. Story time happened. And so the branch supervisor was reading to the kids.

Zaidee:
So Kenny Williams, who’s the police chief and he’s also the city manager, why did he say that the police department needs the space?

Emma:
He says that McFarland is a growing city that needs a modern police department. And the McFarland police department headquarters right now is located at city hall. It’s actually extremely close to where the library is right now. So he’s the said that he’s trying to, you know, expand the police department, make sure that it has enough space for his own office office, offices for sergeants, property room. He said that storage is all happening in trailers right now. And so, you know, he’s saying that right now, it’s just, it’s cramped, it’s small. He can’t expand the department and it’s not adequate. So he’s looking for a space to expand, and the library’s very close. It’s a very nice building. And it has all of the kind of specs that he’s looking for in a building. He said that he is open to alternatives. So far none of the alternatives that I’ve heard put forward, involve the library staying there. But you know, he said that the city is looking to any options.

Zaidee:
What kinds of alternatives has he put forward?

Emma:
So he brought up that the library could use one of the meeting rooms that is currently at the library while the police department uses the rest of the building. That’s been one option. And some of the city council members brought up maybe using a book mobile to replace services. Some people in the city who do support the library moving have brought up their own ideas as well. Like just opening up a computer lab because you know, the kids can get, they said, Hey, the kids can get their own books at schools and adults just need a place to go on a computer. I talked to people who are librarians and they say, that’s not really adequate. None of those options are really adequate for a city of that size. And it kind of misunderstands what a library does in this era.

Zaidee:
So I know you talked to a bunch of people at the library and including kids and some adults. Did anybody stand out to you that you want to share with us?

Emma:
There was a girl who her name was Natalie. And she was just really funny. She told me I’d rather they close down the school than the library. I mean, she just loved the library. She said, it’s so much more fun here. I asked her, well, what is your favorite subject in school? Well, she said, I love reading. And so, you know, coming to the library, I get to do my favorite thing. So she was telling me all the different books that she likes checking out. And she said there was a limit to the number of books that she can check out at school. And so the kids that I talk to who are also students, there’s this sense of freedom at the library that they kind of get to do exactly what they wanna do. You know, they can come in and out, read what they want, check out as many books as they want, ask questions. There’s no time limit, it’s not prescribed. And it seems like she really liked that kind of freedom.

Phil:
My heart just breaks at the thought of her and children like her, not being able to come over to the library.

Zaidee:
Phil Corr is the president of Friends of the McFarland Library. He’s also a pastor of a church in town. He says the library is used by all kinds of people. Adults use the computers there to look for jobs. Kids use it for homework, art, and reading. And everybody uses it to check out books. Phil checks out a whole lot of books.

Phil:
I am something of a tight Scot and I don’t like to pay for books I only read once. I estimate that I save approximately a thousand dollars a year through inter library loan requests.

Zaidee:
Phil loves his town. And he doesn’t understand the idea of taking the library space for a police station. Instead he says the library should be open more.

Phil:
I am told by the head librarian that students repeatedly come up to her and say, when do we get more days? We want more days.

Zaidee:
Phil likes the police chief. Considers him a friend. But when he heard him say that the police station should use the building because the library is only open a couple days a week and the police station would be open 24/7, Phil got mad.

Phil:
If you’re gonna take that to its logical conclusion, then every library in Kern county or everywhere should be closed and turn into a police station because there’s no library that I know of the brick and mortar that’s open 24/ 7.

Zaidee:
So Emma, what did some of the kids say to you about where they think the police station could go and what they want for the library?

Emma:
Well, first of all, they said, they don’t want the library going anywhere. They love the library where it is. They don’t want it to move. And they think that the police station should go somewhere else, anywhere else. And I was out there with them and they started just pointing to buildings. They said, what about right there? What about right there? You know, just don’t take this library away. So they were very adamant that this is the library that they want This is where they want it. They don’t want it to be … the physical library itself to be changed. But one thing that they really did want to change is they want the library to be open a lot more than two days a week. So everyone said that they would love to come there every day and they would. And they would be completely devastated if it were shut down and they didn’t have a place to go.

Zaidee:
Emma, you laid out in your article that the libraries in Kern county are chronically underfunded and that they have way less money than the libraries and other counties in California. Can you tell us a little bit about what you found?

Emma:
I looked at what is the operating budget for Kern County and we have the worst funded county library in the state. And it’s just, it’s absolutely stark. I found out that I believe it was in last year’s budget. The local government put forth $6.17 per resident in Kern county. And I compared that to San Francisco where they put forth $165.05 cents. These are places that have about the same number of residents, but you can just imagine the difference in services between those two places. It’s extremely stark. So our, our library system, unlike say our school system, is completely locally funded. So if there’s a local government that wants to spend more in the form of a parcel tax, a sales tax, or just some other kind of special funding than they have better libraries. Kern county has not voted in favor of doing that, like places like San Francisco and even Fresno County. So we have underfunded libraries and McFarland is not the only library that’s only open two days a week. There’s a lot in our county.

Zaidee:
Kern county isn’t the only county with underfunded libraries in California.

Emma:
There are other counties that are just right at the bottom with us.Imperial County, Del Norte, Madera, and Yuba. And so when I looked at this story, it is about what’s going on in McFarland and Kern county, but there’s also a lot of libraries that are really underfunded and at risk in other places around the state.

Zaidee:
So one of the reason that community members have protested this is that they they’ve also brought up the fact that the McFarland police department has been racked with accusations of corruption and financial struggle and different scandals. Can you give us a little overview of some of the things that have happened since the city established its police department in 2009.

Emma:
The city established its own police department with the idea that it would be addressing crime on its own rather than having the Sheriff’s department. But it’s never had much of a budget. And so the salaries for officers who work is very low and there’s been investigations into this about the screening process that would bring in these officers as well. And so what happened with McFarland for a long time was that you were getting police officers from other jurisdictions who were accused, sometimes convicted, of misconduct. That includes some of the police chiefs. So this has been like an ongoing issue, but even as recently as last year, there was still information coming out about previous chiefs using officers to do updates, renovations on his own home. There’s just been some things going on in the department that just seemed a little askew. And so residents have a lot of skepticism about the police department. Even though Kenny Williams is a new police chief there’s just not a lot of great history between residents and the department.

Zaidee:
This one quote that you put in your article really stood out to me. It was from Elias Ahumada who started the petition. And he said, we have a lot of money that we pour into prisons. We have prisons and police departments. What we lack is educational and community resources. It was heavy.

Emma:
Yeah. That’s something that you hear discussed in all sorts of places. You know, the amount spent in prisons versus education. I think in a place like McFarland, it feels very stark because Northern Kern County is a place where there are a lot of prisons. So there are some prison systems in Delano, which is just up the street. Wasco, which is not far away. And then McFarland just approved a contract for an ICE detention facility. So, you know, everywhere that you’re going in this area, there are a lot of prisons, state prisons, and then ice detention as well. So I think for libraries to maybe be shrinking in a place where there’s so many prisons, I think that really stuck out.

Zaidee:
It almost feels to me like investing in a library is also a way to prevent crime.

Emma:
Yeah. I mean, you’ll hear advocates say things like this, but you know, I spoke to a 10 year old and she, this is safety for us. She said, I know that we need public safety, but this library is safe for us. She told me she feels safe here.

Zaidee:
12 year old, Jasmine Ciciliano says, she’s worried if the library closes, her friends will drift apart, not having a place where they can hang out.

Jazmine:
Well, me and my friends think that like, we’re gonna kind of grow distant, because we don’t really hang out any place besides the library and school, obviously. And since we’re going into a new school, we feel like we’re gonna go more distant.

Zaidee:
But what worries her more is the future. She has plans for the library

Jazmine:
Myself I have a little sister and I really wanna take her there to learn. I would get books, read to her, and have her read along with me to learn words and what like what the actions the person is doing in the book. And if they shut it down, I feel like I won’t be able to do that.

Zaidee:
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Education Beat, getting to the heart of California schools, a production of EdSource. You can find Emma’s story at edsource.org. Our producer is Coby McDonald. Special thanks to our guests, Jasmine Ciciliano, Phil Corr, and reporter Emma Gallegos. And our director, Anne Vasques. Our theme music is from Blue Dot Sessions. This episode was brought to you by the Silver Giving Foundation. I’m Zaidee Stavely. Join me next week and subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

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