A substitute teacher with a love for libraries is trying to mobilize opposition to privatization of the Kern County Library Department.
Miranda Lomeli-O'Reilly's Advocates for Library Enhancement group is inviting the public to an organizational meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Beale Memorial Library on Truxtun Avenue.Library supporters from as far away as Ridgecrest are planning to attend.
Lomeli-O'Reilly is working as a substitute teacher and studying for her teaching credential at Cal State Bakersfield.
"I don't work for the library. I'm not part of a union. I'm just a person with a library card," she said.
Her love of libraries grew out of a childhood connection to books.
"My dad was a Marine for 23 years. My mom worked at the base," Lomeli-O'Reilly said.
The library was where she'd go, a safe haven.
"A librarian took me under her wing," Lomeli-O'Reilly said.
Kern County leaders have been discussing the possibility of outsourcing the library's work with a Maryland company, Library Systems & Services, since June.
Opposition to the idea, when it became public, was swift and vocal.
On March 17 Kern County supervisors backed away from a plan to start the process that would lead to outsourcing, instead electing to launch a 60-day community outreach process which would solicit information about options for improving library services.
Lomeli-O'Reilly said she and a friend, who is a librarian, organized the Advocates group because community opposition was strong but not organized into a coordinated campaign.
One of her major problems with Kern's consideration of privatization, she said, was the way the community was left out of the early process.
"We're outraged because they didn't do any of these meetings before" the issue came to the board, she said. "We hope to make this a community conversation, which it has not been."
She also worries that a private, for-profit company won't be as committed to the nurturing role that libraries and librarians have in the public's life.
"No Target associate ever took me under their wing and fostered a love of learning in me," she said.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon said Thursday that the county plans to come back to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on April 21 with a detailed plan for holding public meetings on libraries across the county.
The focus, he said, will not be on privatization but on asking the community what they want the library system to look like and what they want their libraries to do for them.
Lomeli-O'Reilly said that her group is interested in improving libraries and they want everyone to be involved in the conversation.
"I'm not anti-progress. I am not anti-public-private partnership," she said. "We want progress that involves the community -- left, right or middle."