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Lack of funding, hiring shortages restricts Kern County library system from increasing hours of operation

“It’s such a great place to come."
Library books
Posted at 10:48 PM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 14:30:30-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Lack of staff and funding has affected businesses all across the country and here in Kern County, it’s the reason the Kern County library system has struggled to re-open some of its locations from its pandemic closures.

It’s been a long time coming, all 22 Kern County library branch locations are now back open, but they are operating on limited hours. Residents said that won't stop them from utilizing education and social resources for themselves and their families.

“We come here at least once a week when the weather is hot, or if they have a program we’re interested in,” said stay-at-home mom Diana Ryes.

Libraries are for more than just reading.

“It’s such a great place to come, it looks exciting I always love the things going on here,” said Gita Lloyd.

The Kern County Library also offers activities like games, movies, arts and crafts, and tutoring.

But the majority of branches are only open two or three days a week.

“We definitely hear from the public about increasing hours into the nights and into the weekends,” said Andie Sullivan, Director of Libraries for the County of Kern.

Ryes said extending library hours would help her family.

“It would be more beneficial if the ones closest to our house were open on a daily basis like this was and had the activities like this one does.”

Kern County’s Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said the library has limited hours because the county funds a lot of services, including the Kern County library system through discretionary revenue from property and sales tax and there has not been an increase in funding over the last seven years.

“It's dead last in growth of all 58 counties in this state. Its predominately being pulled down by our oil and gas industry which we are uniquely tied to as a county over the years and that is a problem, a challenge for doing additional things right now.”

When asked about the proposal to turn the McFarland Branch Library into the new police department headquarters, following claims that the library is not open enough to utilize the building to its full extent, Alsop said there are no plans to move or close that library.

“I think there is a clear tie to libraries being open and public safety and crime rates and I think that we are willing to help McFarland in any way what we can to explore all options but right now moving or closing that library is not one of them.”

Kern County Director of Libraries Andie Sullivan said she hopes the library can continue to be a crucial service to Kern County residents.

"I feel in this county that we have such a literacy issue that libraries are fundamental in reaching a population to gain literacy skills and be able to add to the workforce in our community that's our whole goal, right? To me it is.”

Alsop said in the future he hopes that each Kern County library branch can be open for six days a week and that county officials are working towards that goal.