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Libraries for All

Let's give Latino populations a voice on the library commission



From my childhood in the Deep South, I have disturbing memories of how black voters were disenfranchised. The South is still trying this, in stupidly and obviously discriminatory ways, such as voter ID laws that recognize gun permits but exclude student IDs.

I expected Sonoma County to be liberal. Over time, I discovered that, while Latinos make up a quarter to a third of the population, they are scarcely visible in local government. More recently, I learned the mechanism. A large part of the Latino population lives in the unincorporated areas of the county. They don't get to vote for the leaders. That's more clever than the South ever was.

The most recent example is the new proposed structure for the library, drawn up by Supervisor Mike McGuire's committee with no representation from the public. Under the old structure, the unincorporated areas of the county contributed 45 percent of the library tax revenue but received less than 5 percent of the services.

In the new structure proposed by the McGuire committee, the cities will each get a rep on the library commission, but the single county rep is not mandated to represent the unincorporated areas. The bulk of the library's contributors will lose their representation, while McGuire's district will get three reps.

Committee member (and library commissioner) Julia Freis claims that this is fair because the commissioners don't represent an area; they represent everyone in the county. One wonders, then, why the commission has never reviewed services to the Spanish-speaking, where Sonoma County lags behind other Bay Area libraries with significant Latino populations.

The library commission backed an out-of-control director for eight years. It spent lavishly on outside consultants and designer furniture. It cut staff, Monday services and evening hours, but, in spite of deep public opposition, it has never put the Monday closures on its agenda.

McGuire's committee has proposed a new library governance structure that makes it easier for the cities to negotiate leases. For the public, it does nothing to ensure that the new director or the new commission will be any improvement over the old ones.

Karen Guma is a retired Sonoma County librarian living in Petaluma.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write


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