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‘We won’t take ‘no’ for an answer’: Shafter library reopens with high hopes | News

‘We won’t take ‘no’ for an answer’: Shafter library reopens with high hopes | News

Shafter’s community library came very close to being one of the many beloved community institutions to shut down in March 2020 — and never reopening.

Instead, the Shafter Library and Learning Center was formally reopened Tuesday afternoon thanks to key partners, including the city of Shafter and Bakersfield College, but perhaps most importantly, a community that fought for its library.

“The community spoke up and said we want our library open, and we won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Shafter City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez.

When the Kern County Library announced it was not planning to reopen the Shafter branch of the library, an outcry ensued.

For rural communities, a library’s shuttering doesn’t just close off access to books. It also denies the public access to space, said Katie Wiebe, co-founder of the community advocacy group Listen to Shafter. She and fellow co-founder Melissa Bergen organized petitions that garnered 1,500 signatures.

That helped set into motion what is a relatively rare set-up: a city-run library system. In 2021, the City Council voted to operate the library independently with BC. Gonzalez said that to pull that off in a city of just 20,000 people really shows leadership.

The newly-independent library has been remodeled and it features bold murals inside and out from local artist Lorena Castillo.

Old and damaged books were removed to make way for new titles in English and a robust Spanish language section. Nearly a quarter of the books are brand-new. 

“I am so touched,” Wiebe said. “This is even better than I hoped.”

BC has had a presence at the library since the city built the Shafter Learning Center in 2014. BC offered classes, registration events and counseling through its Rural Initiatives program. Now BC is providing staffing and helping to oversee the programming that serves preschoolers through adults, according to BC program manager Ariel Dyer.

She notes that there is no longer a wall between the library and the learning complex. There’s some symbolism in that: There are no boundaries between the two sections of the library.

The Shafter Library and Learning Center will offer after-school programs in spring and fall, like robotics and cooking experiments, as well as homework help during the school year. Summer programming will go on during the day. There will also be family bilingual night, literacy clubs, Shafter history lectures and special monthly events, including concerts. 

David Franz, the city of Shafter’s education partnership director, said the reopening of the library is an exciting moment for the community. Children don’t actually spend most of their hours in school and having another place to go is crucial — especially at this point in the pandemic.

“Kids have spent too much time in their houses,” he said.

Franz said the city also believes that this is an investment in the future. Few families could ever afford the number of books a library offers, yet one of the best predictors of success is the number of books a child can access. 

Wiebe hopes that what is happening in Shafter is not only a success but can be a model for other rural communities.

The Shafter Learning Center & Library will be open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday starting Wednesday.

You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.