FAQs about SBPL’s Withdrawal from Black Gold Library Cooperative

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Why is SBPL leaving the Black Gold Library Cooperative?

As members of Black Gold Library Cooperative, SBPL and SLO Library have been advocating for several years for all member libraries, including Santa Paula, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Goleta, and Paso Robles to transition to a new catalog system that would improve statistical reporting, allow for more customization by individual library jurisdictions, improve the user experience, and reduce costs. Black Gold Administrative Council makes decisions based on majority rule and these proposals have been outvoted.

When SBPL announced its intention to move to an independent catalog and desire to still participate in physical resource sharing, shared digital content, and network services, Black Gold Library Cooperative threatened litigation. They also voted that Santa Barbara and SLO continue to pay their portion of the shared catalog they wouldn’t be using as well as for their independent catalog. The return on investment is non-existent, especially compared to the high costs of being a member of Black Gold Library Cooperative.

Why is Black Gold Library Cooperative threatening to sue?

The other six Black Gold members rely on Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo to pick up the majority of the costs of Black Gold services (currently SB and SLO pay 51%). It appears that these jurisdictions are unable for various financial or political reasons to provide services at the level of expectation that SB and SLO have, and rely on SB and SLO to subsidize their library services. Due to this scenario, they need and want SBPL to continue to pay for a portion of the shared catalog, even if we wouldn’t be participating in it. They also rely on access to SBPL’s collections for new materials. SBPL spends nearly as much on print and digital collections as the other 5 remaining libraries combined.

This was a surprise, as Goleta began to independently operate their own library in the name of local control in 2018, and aside from the cost savings, SBPL wanted to pursue a new catalog for local control when agreement could not be reached with other Black Gold member Libraries.

Their actions were even more alarming, given the financial impacts of Goleta becoming an independent jurisdiction. The boundaries for their service area include the City of Goleta, Isla Vista, and the Noleta area, extending to the City Limits of Santa Barbara. These boundaries were drawn by the County Supervisors when they approved the formation of a new library services zone in Santa Barbara County. It is surprising that they would now not only oppose SBPL’s plans to improve their own local library services, but threaten legal action.

The City of Goleta receives funding from the County of Santa Barbara to provide library services in areas where most people choose to be a member of SBPL. Four years after their transition to an independent library jurisdiction, there are still nearly 5,000 Goleta residents who have chosen to remain SBPL cardholders, and even though Noleta is in the Goleta service area and they receive per capita funding from the county to provide services to them, the majority of residents who have library cards choose SBPL for their library. In contrast, only 252 residents of the City of Santa Barbara have Goleta cards – a negligible amount, consistent with those in Lompoc, Santa Maria, and other outlying areas. Not only does SBPL not receive funding for providing service to these cardholders, the cost of providing digital access to Overdrive, Hoopla, and other online services costs SBPL more than $60,000 annually.

Are you sure there’s no basis to this litigation?

The City Attorney’s office has reviewed the Joint Powers Agreement that formed Black Gold Library Cooperative. The Santa Barbara City Attorney’s office has reviewed the legal issues and determined that SBPL was free to independently pursue a locally managed catalog. The Joint Powers Agreement that governs Black Gold Library Cooperative stipulates that no member may sue another, and SBPL is fulfilling all existing contracts.

Why did SBPL think that Black Gold Cooperative would allow these changes?

In the past, multiple library systems including Ventura and Thousand Oaks were Black Gold Cooperative Members without participating in the shared catalogs. The 2018 Bylaws approved by Black Gold Admin Council allow for tiered memberships levels. For the past several years, Black Gold Member Libraries have been discussing core services, but have never come to a consensus. Therefore under the JPA, the “obligation to accept services” is not defined and inapplicable. Since other current members had a different philosophy regarding library service and didn’t want to move forward with the new catalog, SBPL assumed they’d still appreciate and welcome SBPL participating in resource sharing, digital collections, and networking. We assumed that access to our significant new collections, contribution to shared digital collections, and contribution to networking costs would outweigh the slight increase to their costs to pay Black Gold to administer their catalog with SLO and SBPL not participating in the shared catalog. 

Are you sure this is the best decision for SBPL? I really value sharing materials throughout the Central Coast.

Not renewing membership in Black Gold is in the best interests of Santa Barbara Public Library in terms of both costs and operational efficiency. Costs will increase by at least $78,000 due to SLO Library withdrawing from the Cooperative, and SBPL can expect any future recommendations for modernization or improvement to be voted down by the other jurisdictions.

As librarians, we believe in sharing resources. Yet the methods, policies, and procedures of the Black Gold Library Cooperative have not changed as state funding was eliminated, technology changed, and libraries have evolved to provide access to information through classes, one-on-one assistance, and digital learning platforms as much as books. Change was needed, and it was clear that other Black Gold Member Libraries were not interested in any deviation from the status quo, even when it was clearly not working and there were better, more economical options available.

Can I still request books from other Black Gold libraries?

We hope you’ll find what you’re looking for in our collections. If you don’t, please let us know what you’re looking for either via a purchase suggestion in your library account, through an email to, or in person or via phone. We want to hear what you’re looking for! We may also be able to direct your request to Zip Books or help you find existing items in our collection that meet your needs.

Because all jurisdictions are migrating to a new catalog, sharing physical materials between all locations has been paused in order to prepare for the changes.

Will this impact my ability to borrow ebooks and digital audiobooks?

No, you will still be able to borrow ebooks and digital audibooks from Overdrive/Libby and Hoopla. While currently SBPL contributes to some shared content on Overdrive/Libby that is available to all Black Gold member library patrons, SBPL also purchases a special collection of Advantage titles that are available only to SBPL patrons to decrease wait times for popular materials and add additional titles that are not purchased for all of Black Gold. Hoopla is also provided independently of Black Gold Library Cooperative as well. 

Can I remain a Black Gold cardholder?

California law enables any resident to get a library card at any library jurisdiction if they visit in person. When this change goes into effect on July 1, 2022, you can remain an SBPL cardholder and become a member of a neighboring a Black Gold Cooperative member library.

I’m afraid service will change.

Though unfortunate, this change should not have a great impact on local SBPL patrons. After San Luis Obispo, SBPL has the highest collection budget and purchases the most new print materials annually. SBPL is confident that it can support the ongoing needs of the Santa Barbara community without relying on books from other Black Gold Library Cooperative jurisdictions. In fact, the improved statistical reporting of the new catalog will allow staff to pinpoint which collections, topics, and genres are of most interest locally. Currently, there is no way to distinguish between materials being borrowed by local patrons versus loaned to neighboring jurisdictions.

We will continue to provide great service—we actually think when all the changes are complete, you’ll find that service has improved! If you have questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to reach out via email to or visiting an SBPL location.