Grassroots effort to bring back Los Alamos Library

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Reprinted courtesy of: Santa Maria Times

By: Brian Bullock

“Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men setting out in life, it is their only capital.”

That Thomas Jefferson quote is one of Stephan Bedford’s favorites. It also represents why he and Vickie Gill are leading a grassroots effort to bring back the Los Alamos Library.

The town had been without library service for the past 20 years when the wheels finally came off a bookmobile that was operated by the Santa Maria Public Library through Santa Barbara County.

“Libraries are a great snapshot of the community,” said Bedford, owner of Bedford Winery which has its tasting room in Los Alamos. “This is going to be important to Los Alamos. Our demographics are changing. It’s important for children, adults and seniors.”

The Friends of the Los Alamos Library met with the county’s Library Advisory Committee last week and the group is getting almost universal support. The organization, which planted its roots in June, is in the process of gaining its nonprofit status and charter.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Board of Supervisors on the Library Advisory Committee, is behind the effort. After all, Los Alamos is in her district.

The Orcutt Union School District, which a few years ago absorbed the Los Alamos district and now runs Olga Reed School, has expressed interest in the effort. Members of the Friends of the Library are scheduled to make a presentation to the district board soon.

Los Alamos Superintendent and Olga Reed Principal Joe Dana have been working with the Friends so far on the project.

And Librarian Mary Housel from the Santa Maria Public Library which oversees branches in Guadalupe, Orcutt and Cuyama, is also behind it. Housel will be responsible for administering the Los Alamos branch.

She said the Los Alamos community is allocated $6.90 per resident in per capita funding which comes out to around $13,800 per year.

The community already has a library building. Built in 1966 on the Olga Reed School campus by the county, the facility operated until 1988 when it was closed due to budgetary issues. Now the dilapidated building needs some serious refurbishing before it can be used again.

County building officials recently inspected the building. Not only does it need to be updated, it needs to be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards with access ramps and other such amenities.

Getting everybody working together is the first issue the Friends of the Los Alamos Library is working on.

“Working out details of permitting and occupancy and how that will work out,” Gill said has been a tough first step. “We’re just trying to come up with how much money are we going to need to raise to refresh this building to contemporary standards.”

Another issue is start-up money. Housel said the current budget doesn’t include opening a new branch. She said the Friends of the Library would have to get a small collection going. Furniture and equipment such as computers are also needed.

“Friends of the Library are raising money to do what they need to do to open it. We’re really hopeful we can work things out and do what needs to be done,” Housel said. “It’s pretty amazing, refreshing and inspiring to see a group out there that is so passionate about having a library.”

She added that even when the building is refurbished and stocked with books and magazines, there is only enough in the budget to have it open around 15 to 18 hours a week. The Cuyama branch is currently open 12 hours a week, four hours each day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Still, it would be a start for a community that is long overdue for library services.

“People are really trying to make this work — what’s the best, long-term, sustainable way to achieve this,” Gill said. “It’s a win for the school district, a win for the community, and a win for the county. Everybody’s on board with this. It’s just trying to get through the proper channels.

“It’s amazing how difficult it is and how important libraries are to communities. People need to support local libraries.”

Friends of the Los Alamos Library can be reached at