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We are deep into the Digital Age, and getting deeper by the nano-second. Unfortunately, one of our most socially significant institutions is taking a hit because of progress.

We are referring to our community libraries, which are modernizing as fast as funding agencies will allow, but perhaps not fast enough to survive.

A discussion about that will take place at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting this morning in Santa Barbara. The board is being asked to resolve budget-deficit issues at three branch libraries, including facilities in Los Alamos and Cuyama.

We’re not talking about a whopping sum — in Los Alamos’ case, $13,020, and for Cuyama, a little more than $9,300. When compared to the $1-billion 2019-20 fiscal-year budget approved by the board in June, those two shortages are minuscule.

But the fact that the deficits exist, and Friends of the Library groups were unable to raise the amounts necessary to erase the red ink, will be a subject for discussion.

One idea is to use revenues from the cannabis taxes to help keep the libraries financially viable. But we have a sense that those cannabis taxes will be involved in a serious tug-of-war before final decisions are made.

Without erasing the deficits, those branch libraries face the possibility of being open fewer hours each week, axing programs and/or further squeezing measures on library staff.

Community libraries are an essential part of every community in America. A Brookings Institute study last year stressed the importance of “third places” in people’s lives. In other words, a place that is not your home or office. A third place can be anything from a church to the local hair salon — just so long as it is not home or work. Libraries can be, and often are just such a place.

It has become abundantly clear that modern libraries not just about books, and the librarian at the information desk shushing loud talkers. These days, such facilities are a “library of things” that include books, classes, seminars, children’s activities and items other than books that are available to be checked out.

The onset of the Digital Age suggested to many folks that libraries would simply disappear, go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, libraries are prospering in terms of usage, bringing in new customers all the time. We mentioned in an editorial last year that there are more libraries in the United States than there are Starbucks. Hard to believe, but true.

Public libraries play a central role in providing safe, accessible and free educational resource centers, and there is usually something for every member of the family. In a way, libraries are blind. They don’t care how much money you have, because every resource there is essentially free to users — unless you forget about that Stuart Woods best-seller you should have returned two months ago.

Books, access to the internet, and educational and professional training programs — you name it, and there’s a good chance your local library has it. No matter what your socioeconomic status, the library will provide you with the resources you need to succeed. And if you have a question you can’t find the answer to, the librarian will be there for you.

But like so many other important parts of our social structure and community values, the pressure is on, and relentless, for finding ways to pay for library operations — facts and realities members of the Board of Supervisors should keep firmly in mind as they decide on the fate of those library branches.

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