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By Becca Lawton

TODAY I'm pestering our school librarians with questions about the local front-page news. "It says here that parent volunteers aren't allowed to offset staff cuts," I point out. "Does that mean I'm no longer working here?"

"No," answers veteran librarian Mrs. X. "Nothing's changing with our established volunteers."

"Right," explains her colleague Ms. Z. "You've worked with us for years. You're OK. The union's just worried that new parent helpers will take over our classified duties when we're not here."

And they're not here a lot these days.

Since budget cuts this fall, our school library is open half time. The other half, it sits locked up and unstaffed, the lights out on the thousands of books assembled lovingly by Mrs. X and Ms. Z in their decades of work here. I learned about the potential library shutdown last year from my fourth-grade daughter. We were headed home from her school, passing well-watered lawns in a development of million-dollar custom houses still in phased construction. "I don't get it," she said. "How can they close the library?"

"The school district feels it doesn't have the money to keep it open." We rounded the corner near an estate guarded by two black hounds and a half-mile of wrought-iron fencing. My daughter protested.

"But it's our library! We made the money to fix it up."

She was right. She and her schoolmates raised funds in an event called the Great Academic Brain Wave, which, along with money earned at school book fairs, paid to expand and remodel the library. When it reopened in its new glory, the children learned firsthand what hard work can achieve.

"It's not fair," she concluded. I agreed. Lifting up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help, I spied sunlight glinting off the picture window of a distant trophy home. The library situation is up for analysis, along with other "enhancement programs" cut recently in our school district. This alone tells me they don't get it. We don't see our books as enhancements--they and the librarians are fundamental to our children's success.

So here's to the district reopening full library access, preferably in the lifetimes of the kids who supported library renewal. If not, then we need to tap other resources. I guess it's lucky I'm grandfathered in, because I'll give up helping the enhancement programs when you pry my cold, dead fingers off their bindings.

Becca Lawton is a Sonoma County writer whose short stories and essays have appeared in a number of enhancements, er, books.

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From the November 16-22, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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