Private Library at 1/52 the Cost


When voters in Shasta County soundly defeated a half-cent increase in the sales tax, they knew the Northern California county would have to shut down its libraries. But in this rural community, the citizens felt trampled by taxes, and they were willing to do without libraries.

When all the libraries closed last June, Eugene and Kathy Lucas began to wonder where students could go to study and do research once school started. To get a private library going, the Lucases drove to Sacramento and hand-carried their nonprofit corporation papers through the state attorney general's office to form the Fall River Valley Library Corp.

Next they organized volunteers to telephone the 900 landowners in the valley, to gauge their level of interest in a private library. "I had expected that we would get a couple of nos for every yes but it was just the opposite," says Eugene Lucas. When it came time to collect on people's promises of time, money, and books, 50 percent came through. "That was a good number," says Lucas.

The corporation rented a two-bedroom home at $50 a month. Volunteers then used the $2,000 from one-time contributors to fix up the house and build book shelves. Twenty-eight people became friends of the library, each paying about $25 every three months to cover upkeep.

On September 12, the Fall River Valley Library opened its doors. It was filled with 11,000 donated books. Britannica contributed a children's precyclopedia. "The lady from Britannica just walked in the door and said, 'Here.' That's how it's been. When people hear, they've given us things," explains Lucas. The library also contains several Read and Sing cassette-book combinations contributed by that company, as well as a donated computer with 200 public domain programs.

"The main thrust of our library is to provide a place for students to study after school," says Lucas. "Our levels of priority were first education, then information, then recreation." The public high school, about four miles away, does have its own library and computer room, but both close at 3:00 P.M. Lucas plans to ask the school board to keep the library and computer room open until 6:00 P.M. and run a bus by his library to take kids home.

So far, the Lucases have not met any government interference. "I think it was a matter of embarrassment," says Lucas. "Our library has no fees of any kind and operates with voluntary people. Our total yearly operating expenses are less than the operating expenses for one week of a professional library….Our approach is that if counties and towns recognize this and start to set themselves up so that they go down to minimum staff, which is one registered librarian and one professional volunteer coordinator, then they can open their libraries and keep them open. But if they try to maintain this full professional library with no public involvement they're going to be in deep trouble."