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Murder Mystery at the Library: Bleeding Two Million Dollars

My declining support for Mr. Atkins

The other day while stepping out of a shower, I gashed my ankle on the door frame. Then this morning I split a fingernail while reaching into a clothes washer, followed by getting raked across my bald head by a thick rosebush thorn while pruning. Bloody business.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve been reading about the bleeding down at the Dixon library, where two million dollars has gone down the drain in the name of a new library, with nary a new brick laid.

I must admit that when I first came to town in 2009, I supported the idea of a new library, and supported the head librarian, Mr. Atkins, feeling he was being unfairly picked on by people like Mike Ceremello. My support for a new library has lessened since then, and I have dropped any positive view of Mr. Atkins, due to reports by people who worked with him and others.

My first take on Atkins as a person was that he was intelligent, a bit of a curmudgeon, and looked (with his beard and so on) pretty old-fashioned. But he was putting a lot of energy into getting a new library, and I thought that admirable.

I suppose coming from San Mateo, which had built a fine new library five years ago, made me a library booster. The discrepancy is that San Mateo has five times Dixon’s population.

In supporting the idea of a new Dixon library, I failed to recognize that Mr. Atkins shouldn’t be spending big bucks on new land, an environmental review and preliminary design (and possibly PR), without first having the money in hand to actually build the new structure. But that’s what happened. I think he fully expected the people of Dixon to approve a bond measure to build a library, but when he began to be criticized by people like Ceremello, and a school bond measure was defeated, he pulled back and realized that the momentum he’d created had begun to fizzle.

In a town like Dixon, wasting two million dollars is a big deal. Think of the improvements that might’ve been made to the existing library with that kind of money.

Some people say libraries are going the way of the horse and buggy. I’ll dispute that. When I was writing historical columns for Dixon Patch, I did 95 percent of my research there, especially loving to look at old Dixon Tribune pages from 100 or 150 years ago. The microfilm machine I used to view the pages was cranky and sometimes decided to shut down, but it did get the job done. The library’s archivist, Shirley Parsons, had plenty of well-organized files for me to dig up further information. My wife checks out spoken-word books on CDs at the library to listen to while driving to work and we’ve signed out several movies on DVDs to watch.

On the other hand, recently I was trying to learn if pruning back the runners from a butternut squash plant in my garden would damage the plant. Did I run down to the library to look for a Sunset gardening book? Of course not. I went online and immediately saw helpful comments from five different sources.

There are still people going into the library to look for books on certain subjects (especially kids’ books), and they are aided in their search by computer look-ups (in the old days, we had to look through card catalogs). And there are folks who read a regular diet of novels who don’t want to pay the high prices charged at bookstores, so they check them out at the library.

But the times are changing, and e-books are becoming more and more popular, and my hope is that libraries will be able to offer them to their visitors. Libraries especially need to offer more computers and Internet access, and perhaps software programs like Photoshop and Word so that those who can’t afford the software on their home computer can use them at the library. Libraries could offer banks of images that students and others could use in their school reports, and libraries could help visitors create and print their own books. Librarians can be trained to help visitors with online searches, especially job searches.

As a bicycling touring person, each year you’ll find me taking a week or more to go on a long trip somewhere in the western states. As I pass through small towns like Dixon, often camping along the way, it’s really valuable to be able to drop in at the local library and check e-mail.

If Dixon ever does get a new library or expands the existing library (it’s complicated, because of the historic value of the Carnegie Library portion of the complex), I’d like to see a community meeting room, a decent-sized room devoted to historical archives and displays, and a space for art shows.

But due to the mistakes made by Mr. Atkins, this may be a long, long time in coming. Let’s hope the new head librarian is a more congenial administrator and earns the support of the entire community.

Let’s also not have any further rubber-stamp commissions (like the soon-to-be expired library commission) which overall lack independence and fail to provide oversight and direction.   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carlos Villatoro June 15, 2012 at 10:19 PM
It will certainly be interesting to see how the governing board responds to the recent Grand Jury report.
Ian Arnold June 26, 2012 at 12:13 AM
I'm hopeful that the Board will work with the County towards a contract with the County to administer the library while leaving policy decisions within the purview of the Board. Assuming Bonnie Katz, the Director of Library Services is interested, there would (IMNSHO) be an immediate economy of scale. The former Librarian was directed to explore this possibility a year or so ago and reported back that Ms. Katz didn't appear particularly interested. I wait with baited breath to see if Ms. Katz was or wasn't interested--or indeed--was contacted at all.
Maggie June 26, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Thank you for this article. I feel the same way about a lot of these issues. I support a bigger and more tech friendly library. There are very few computers and while most of us have computers at home there are many in our community who do not. On any given day after school there are students needing to use computers with little option of getting one. The children's area is also much too small. Story time is often crowded and not able to accomidate everybody. When popular events for children are hosted by the library they have to be taken outside or to another facility all together. A meeting or conference room is a great idea. Although we have e-readers and computers at home we often check out children's books, books on CD, DVD's, music CD's, and children's reference books. It makes no sense to me to buy these materials when we can get them from the library for free and we don't have to store them. (I try to be a minimalist, but I struggle with it at times). Even with computers and e-readers I hope we'll always have libraries so that these devices can be available to everyone. Libraries have traditionally been a gathering place within a community. A place where all are welcome to gather information and educate ourselves in a variety of ways. May it always be so. Long Live Libraries!!!

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