California’s Budget for 2012-2013 has NO library funding!

National Library Week is April 8-14, and I jump-started my celebration by sending eight advocacy letters to Members of the Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees on Education Finance, who in the coming weeks will be discussing Governor Brown’s proposed budget. In my letters I urged that $15.2 million in public library funding be restored.

 As I have written in previous posts, public library funding by the state was $30.4 million in FY 10/11. In FY 11/12, the Governor, faced with an unprecedented budget crisis, slashed all funding. The legislature restored 50% of the funding, but because it was subject to the budget trigger (which ended up being pulled when forecasted state revenues never materialized), all state funding for public libraries was eliminated this fiscal year. Governor Brown’s proposed FY12/13 budget contains no state library funding.

What is at stake is $8.5 million for the California Library Services Act, which allows Californians to borrow materials from any public library in the State; $3.7 million for the California Library Literacy and English Acquisition Services, which provides adults with basic reading and writing skills; and $3 million for the Public Library Foundation, which provides support to libraries for book purchases, children’s programs and other core library services. Also at stake is approximately $16 million in federal matching funding which California will not receive if it doesn’t maintain funding for public libraries in its budget. That’s a net loss of $31 million and it is not acceptable.

California is the 9th largest economy in the world. Ours is the most populous state, making up 12% of the entire U.S. population. Unfortunately, California is also ranked 47th in state spending on education (Education Week’s Quality Counts 2012), and we have a tremendous literacy problem. An estimated 23% of our adult population lacks basic literacy skills. Cutting items out of the state budget like library funding is truly a false saving and short-sighted. We need to do everything possible to ensure our citizenry is literate.

California library advocates are mobilizing to send a strong message to the Governor, that his proposal to eliminate all state funding for public libraries hurts the citizens of California. I think individual patrons who use the libraries also need to mobilize and send our own message to the Governor. The California Library Association has helpful resources which make it easy to send your message to Sacramento. Check out www.cla-net.org.

Don’t forget to hug your librarian next week!

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One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner

Sarah Rayner’s One Moment, One Morning is a poignant novel about friendship and its power to transcend life’s worst moments. The three women who journey in their shared tragedies are authentically crafted characters whom I found achingly believable. Although this story is emotionally charged, a very capable author avoids slipping into the melodramatic. It is tragic from the outset, but left me with a sense of hope and healing.  This wonderful novel is also a quick and vigorous read which one can complete over three easy nights–and it is set within and around London, which is one of my most favorite spots for fiction!

The story opens with a shocking scene as a man suddenly dies next to his wife Karen, as they commute on a train from Brighton to London one random Monday morning. It’s the sort of senseless death we all read about in the news periodically, the kind that gives you momentary pause at the sheer horror of it, followed by that almost shameful sense of relief you feel knowing it doesn’t involve you or your loved ones. Anna, Karen’s best friend,  is also on the train but several cars away and she experiences the tragedy in that disconnected way–sympathetic certainly, but not empathetic–until she finds out that the man who died is in fact a loved one, Karen’s husband and her own dear friend, Simon. Lou, a stranger sitting a few feet away, only moments before had observed the loving gestures between Karen and her husband with a tinge of jealousy that quickly turned to shame as she watched this man leave his wife by way of death. The scene is surreal and fast-moving–the kind you read through without remembering to blink or breathe.

Each subsequent chapter explores the days that follow the event. Lou finds herself becoming a part of both Anna and Karen’s lives and the circumstances by which she transforms from stranger to friend demonstrate some very clever plotting on the part of the author. To say more would steal some magic from the story.

Through a series of flashbacks by each character, we come to learn about the lives of Karen, Anna and Lou, as well as Simon, who though gone physically from the story remains ever-present.  Indeed, his death becomes a catalyst of change for all three woman, who find themselves taking inventory of their own lives, as the impact of the loss of a very good husband, father, and friend, is felt by them all.

What the novel also illustrates is that tragedy comes in many forms. There are those that are instant, inexplicable and unchangeable, such as the death of Simon which lays the foundation for this novel. And then there are the subtle, slow-moving tragedies–those that can be reversed with courage and support.  Such is the case for Anna, who though intelligent, confident, and successful, is sinking ever more deeply into an abusive relationship with her alcoholic partner. As for Lou, her inability to free herself from cruel parental shackles in order to create a true and open partnership with another woman has left her in the depths of loneliness. Both stories are heart-wrenching.

Three tragedies–three friends–it is the mutual web of support woven by Karen, Anna, and Lou, which makes this story such a beautiful read. Through their love and support of one another, each finds an inner-strength to face and transcend their own lives.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: December, 2011 (USA)
ISBN: 125000019X
Pages: 416

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California Eliminates All State Funding to Libraries

I have a disappointing update to provide to readers. This week, Governor Jerry Brown announced devastating spending cuts that will be felt acutely throughout California starting January 1. These cuts include the elimination of all state funding to public libraries. Here is a complete summary.

Governor Brown inherited a $26 billion dollar deficit when he came into office–an absolutely massive financial problem. In January of 2011, he unveiled a budget plan that eliminated all of the state’s funding to public libraries–a total of $30.4 million. This would impact three critical programs that serve our communities and many of our most vulnerable citizens (including 20,000 adults annually who benefit from literacy programs). California would also lose out on approximately $16 million in Federal matching funds should this money not be allocated to the libraries via the budget.

The California Library Association and other groups worked with the Governor’s office and the legislature to educate them about the valuable services the at-risk library programs provide to California citizens. They came up with a realistic plan that would allow the programs to remain functional at a reduced funding level of $15.2 million. The results were positive in that Governor Brown’s June budget, which was approved,  included the $15.2 million for libraries.

However, this budget contained two “trigger bills,” which would allow for deep cuts to be made mid-year should it be determined by December 15th that state revenues were falling below the forecasted amount of $87+ billion.  And that is what has happened. Tax revenues are short by more than $2 billion. Governor Brown pulled the triggers, and all public library funding has been eliminated along with hundreds of millions in other reductions. 

Last year, The San Francisco Public Library received $460,363 in state funding for the three programs mentioned above. Even with its 2011-2012 fiscal year budget of $86+ million, this funding loss will have a tangible impact. However, the impact to smaller library systems, for instance in rural counties, is catastrophic. For many libraries, this state money is their only means of funding literacy and lending programs.

As I stated above, the cuts implemented by the Governor are acute and will affect students, the working poor, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups. The California Library Association is now focusing its efforts on building funding for libraries back into the upcoming budget for 2012-1213.

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Farewell to Anne McCaffrey

Science fiction matriarch, Anne McCaffrey, passed away last week in Ireland at the age of 85. Of all the authors I have loved in my lifetime, I loved Anne McCaffrey the most. As I sit and reflect upon the decades that I followed her work, I feel deep appreciation for the influence that she had on me as a young reader and for the warm companionship that I found in all of the wonderful characters and stories that she created. She wrote with palpable emotion and every one of her books came alive for me.

Anne McCaffrey was a pioneer of her genre as well. In the late 60’s she became the first woman to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards–the top prizes for science fiction writing. Her debut novel, Restoree, published in 1967, had a female hero–written in direct response to the male-dominated plots of the day. She created so many compelling female protagonists across her many series and made science fiction engaging to female readers who, like me, were ready to embrace this genre.

I was introduced to Anne McCaffrey in 1979 when my sister-in-law, Terry, pulled three books from her vast bookcase and let me take them home to try. These were the first three books in what became Ms. McCaffrey’s most successful series, The Dragonriders of Pern. I don’t think I slept, ate, or spoke for three days. I was completely captivated by the world of Pern and its inhabitants–dragons and humans living in harmony, united against a common enemy. That simple description doesn’t do the series justice. Pern is a complex and beautiful world, well worth spending time in.

Ms. McCaffrey appreciated her readers and went out of her way to connect with them personally. In 1990, I wrote a letter to her filled with questions. Months later, I received a letter back, typed on her Dragonhold stationary, answering every one of my questions–even telling me all the different directions she was going with her series!   Two years later, I had the opportunity to meet her at a signing for one of her new Pern novels. The event went on for hours because she gave every person her time and attention. So many years have passed since that day, but this cherished memory remains vivid for me.

The world has lost a great author, but her words will live on forever.

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Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

In September 1665, a box of cloth travelled 160 miles north from plague-infested London, to the tiny village of Eyam (pronounced EEM), Derbyshire. It brought Black Death within its folds. In less than a year, 259 of Eyam’s estimated 350 villagers were dead. In the middle of their suffering, convinced by their rector that it was God’s will for them to endure the scourge alone, the villagers made a covenant to quarantine themselves inside their own boundaries. This heroic gesture prevented the “plague seeds” from spreading to neighboring villages and saved countless English lives while at the same time sealing a horrific fate for those within. These somber facts form the foundation for Geraldine Brooks’ 2001 debut novel, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, her imaginative exploration into what could have gone on inside those brutal borders during that harrowing year of self-confinement. 

The story begins with a somber reflection by Anna Frith, who we glean has played a critical role within the year’s drama. The plague is gone from the village; however we are not at the end of the saga, but find ourselves trudging toward a final climax which slowly builds as we read on. Anna stands in the house of the rector, who appears more ghostlike than man, a faint shadow of a former self. We assume we know why he grieves so, but our assumption proves simplistic.

Anna’s chronicle goes back to the beginning; to the arrival of itinerant tailor George Viccars who enters the village in search of housing and work, to the communal excitement over the delivery of the colorful cloth, and to the death that springs forth from Anna’s cottage, taking her small children while mercilessly sparing her. Yet, Anna does not succumb to this calamity, but rather taps into a hidden strength that sustains her even as neighbors and friends begin to fall around her. She is an unlikely heroine–meek, uneducated, poor. Yet resolute in her faith of a loving though unknowable God, she transcends her own suffering to help lead the village through its crucible. 

Central to the story is Anna’s complex relationship with Elinor Mompellion, the rector’s wife. Originally hired to work in the rectory after the tragic death of her husband, Anna becomes daughter-like to the selfless Elinor who teaches her how to read and write, recognizing special qualities within Anna that have lain dormant her whole life. Elinor and Anna break the boundaries of class and religion as they care for the sick and dying, even learning herbal remedies that border on heresy in their desperate attempt to alleviate the suffering. Anna’s love for Elinor empowers her as the months drag on, yet at the same time she seethes with jealousy for all that Elinor has, or seemingly has, including her picturesque marriage with the rector, Michael Mompellion. It is Anna’s fervent battle between devotion and resentment that makes her such a compelling and believable protagonist.

Year of Wonders includes spectacular villains–characters who illustrate the truth that plays a part in all human tragedies. When faced with catastrophe, there will always be those who make the choice to walk toward the light, like Anna, while others seemingly plunge headfirst into their own darkness. Anna’s father, an abusive lout prior to the plague’s arrival, transforms into an almost vulture-like character when he becomes the village grave-digger following the death of the rectory’s sexton. He eagerly awaits each new body for what it will bring to him in the form of payment–going so far as to linger outside the cottage doorways of the gravely ill with a shovel and a smirk. It is worth reading the book just to find out about his final payment!

The ending of Year of Wonders is sublime. The plague virtually fades into a distant memory as the drama involving Anna, Elinor, and Michael rushes toward its unforeseen climax. Illicit love, sin, and forgiveness collide in a rapid-fire denouement that leaves you breathless after you turn the final astonishing page.  It is a finale that you could never have anticipated–which makes it all the more satisfying!

A Few Words About Geraldine Brooks
I was introduced to Australian-born author Geraldine Brooks in a serendipitous moment at my beloved neighborhood library, the Excelsior branch. People of the Book was sitting in the New section and its beautifully designed cover compelled me to pick it up. Of the hundreds of books that I have read in my lifetime, People of the Book may be my most favorite. Scenes from that masterpiece still visit me in moments of reflection almost three years after reading it. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction and who are also interested in the many ways Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have intersected across centuries of human existence.  Ms. Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, March, which I plan to read next. In 2011 Ms. Brooks published Caleb’s Crossing which I wrote about in this blog (http://wp.me/p1w9Ey-57).  Geraldine Brooks is a master of the historical fiction genre and has created a body of work that one can easily get lost in.

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Update on the California Budget Crisis and Library Funding

In July I wrote an update regarding the 2011-2012 California State budget crisis and how it is affecting state funding of critical library programs that serve our state’s most vulnerable citizens (http://wp.me/p1w9Ey-7Q).  This update shows where things stand as of November.

At the beginning of this year, Governor Brown cut half of the state’s $30.4M in program funding, leaving $15.2M at risk for total elimination. In a revised budget plan that was signed over the summer, this funding was placed within the first tier of a two-tier “Budget Trigger.” Funding became contingent upon the state hitting a revenue target of $87,452,500,000 by December. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst just released its anticipated revenue forecast which unfortunately places revenues approximately $3B short of the target. If the Department of Finance, which is due to publish its revenue forecast in early December, shows a similar dismal revenue scenario, Tier 1 cuts totaling $600M could be enacted on  January 1. This could completely eliminate all remaining state library funding as well as other important programs that fund UC and CSU budgets, In Home Support Services, preschool funding, and other programs.

The California Library Association and other library groups are working with the Department of Finance and the state leadership to try to “save libraries from the trigger.” Alternatives to deal with the state revenue shortfall are being explored, but the risk to critical library funding and Federal matching funding is very real.   

The California Library Association urges concerned library professionals and citizens to write the Governor and request that he spare public libraries from the “trigger.” You can find out more information about how to communicate with our state leadership here: http://www.cla-net.org. Make sure to cc your senator and assembly member. I just dropped my letter in the mail!

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On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry

On Canaan’s Side is a eulogy, a confession, and a letter of gratitude. It is told by 89-year old Lilly Bere, who is in the throes of grief over the sudden death of her grandson, Bill, a recent veteran of the first Gulf War. Written over seventeen despairing days, Lilly looks back upon a life that has been marked by loss, deception, and benevolence while she looks forward to the final relief of her own upcoming death.

That Lilly turns to writing is ironic, “Nothing else on earth would have set me to writing. I hate writing. I hate pens and paper and all that fussiness…Oh, I am lying to myself. I have feared writing…” Yet she sits and faces her own painful memories through written words, bringing the scars from her past out into the plain site of the present, “How strange, how strange. We may be immune to typhoid, tetanus, chickenpox, diphtheria, but never memory. There is no inoculation against that.”

Lilly begins her poignant narrative with short, spasmodic sentences; they are hesitant and erratic, which makes the effort all the more authentic. And in these first seemingly disconnected pages we are introduced to the characters we will eventually come to fully know, including those who have harmed her along the way even while professing their love for her, and those who have given sincerely of themselves as she made a life in America, often alone and without hope. As Lilly immerses herself within her writing, the sentences gradually transform and take on a poetic rhythm, a cadence that draws you gently into Lilly’s memories as if you and she are experiencing them for the very first time together. The author’s merging of the prosaic with the poetic is an extremely effective narrative technique, one that I had never before encountered. By the story’s close, I felt as though I was listening to a soothing lullaby, as Lilly comes to terms with life in America, which she softly declares is “a marriage of hope and suffering.”

The tragic stage that is Lilly’s life was set early–born motherless in Ireland at the turn of the 20th Century. After World War I, she is forced to leave her father and sisters to escape to America, “a glittering Canaan,” due to her fiancé, Tadg’s connections with the Black and Tans, British loyalists who fought against the rebels during the initial struggles for Irish independence. Her own immigration is an epic drama of endurance, tragedy and survival that breaks your heart as you read. Her subsequent, serpentine journey across the East Coast of America in the decades that follow is great storytelling–filled with twists and turns along the way that you are never prepared for. You slowly come to understand why her relationship with Bill means so much, and why his death, of all the losses she has sustained, is the one that makes her long for her own end.

On Canaan’s Side, was a wonderful introduction to  Sebastian Barry, a literary legend from Ireland who is world-renown for his many award-winning novels, plays, and poems. Published this September, On Canaan’s Side is by far one of my best reads of 2011.

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