This year, Solano County Library celebrates its centennial – 100 years of serving the community since the Solano County Board of Supervisors first established the Solano County Free Library in 1914.
We’ve come a long way from those days where a room in the county courthouse served as the first library and horses and wagons were still viable modes of transportation for many of Solano’s 27,000 residents. Movies were silent, Ragtime music was hot, and folks would visit Hunter’s Drugstore on Texas Street for a strawberry phosphate.
Records from the time tell us that Ms. Clara Dills, the first County librarian, was a tireless promoter, traveling throughout Solano to meet with residents in rural hamlets like Cement, Grizzly Island and Bird’s Landing to talk to them about their new library. The community responded enthusiastically. By 1916, the library had a whopping 5,232 volumes and six employees.
Tough economic times
That enthusiasm for libraries is still alive 100 years later, but the economic downturn known as the Great Recession of the 1990s was deeply felt by our county’s residents. Moreover, the recession had dire consequences for Solano County library. Property taxes, contributing approximately 40 percent of the library’s budget, plummeted. Sales tax, which contributes another quarter of the budget, plunged too. Unemployment, foreclosures and household belt-tightening meant that Solano residents needed the services of their library more than ever.
Despite a budget that was slashed by 30 percent, the doors to Solano County library refused to close.
“We made a promise,” said Bonnie Katz, the library’s director.
In 1998, voters passed a one-eight of a penny sales tax dedicated exclusively to libraries. In return, library leaders vowed to deliver on their promise of more books, more hours and more services for students and children.
Voters agreed that promises had been kept by renewing their commitment to Solano libraries in 2012 with an amazing 80 percent majority, extending the sales tax to 2029, and thereby stabilizing funding that continues to help us improve lifelong learning resources for Solano County residents.
Ms. Clara Dills would probably agree that we’ve come a long way from that one-room library. Last year, the library lent 2,494,794 items in a variety of formats (DVD, CD, print, e-book) and expects to increase that number this year. We offer nearly 1,000 magazine subscriptions, including 100 that can be borrowed electronically through Zinio.com on a user’s tablet, phone or computer. Services such as free tutoring, an adult literacy program and free museum passes expand learning beyond the printed page.
Let’s celebrate! Solano County library will be hosting special celebration events every month through 2014 such as Lego Challenge Days, Inventors Labs, a Saturday Quilting for Kids Day hosted by Solano’s Quilting Sisters and more. Lastly, a big birthday celebration is planned for early April.
Stay tuned! For more information visit solanolibrary.com
Yvette Klemm is a library associate at the Fairfield Civic Center Library.