EL CERRITO -- About 60 residents weighed in Sept. 9 on what they would like to see from their library at one of a series of town halls at each of the county's 27 libraries to help system leaders develop a strategic plan.

Keeping the city's library open more hours, embracing continuing innovations in technology and expanding youth literacy programs were at the top of participants' priorities.

Tight budgets are limiting what the county can provide in services even as library use countywide is rising dramatically, county Librarian Barbara Flynn told the gathering.

"We're trying to make sure that in each community we're spending our money the best way we can," she said.

Contra Costa is responsible for pay for library staffing and programs, while cities contribute the buildings and infrastructure.

The library system is increasing its offerings in e-books and expanding special programs, including a ticket service for cultural events and help in retirement and college planning, Flynn said.

"We're expanding into the Internet to connect with the community, while still having bookshelves and library cards," she said.

County Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who was in attendance, said it was the largest turnout for a library town hall so far.

Underlying the exchange of ideas was the desire of many in the community to replace the current 6,000-square-foot El Cerrito library at 6510 Stockton St. with a new 20,000-square-foot building.


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Proponents say they want a new facility to provide meeting rooms and perhaps a coffee shop that will make it a center for community activities and exchanging information.

El Cerrito is updating a 2006 community needs assessment for a new library and will be posting an online survey on its website starting in October, according to Assistant City Manager Karen Pinkos.

However, several residents said they're keeping their enthusiasm in check until the city lines up funding and decides where to build it.

"How do you pay for it?" asked resident John Stashik. "We need more business and jobs to increase our tax base and we're losing both of them."