News

Council rejects $100,000 library gift

Library director warns of extra costs, staffing problems

One would think a $100,000 gift to the libraries would be graciously accepted -- but not if it would require a $300,000 additional expenditure of city funds.

In Palo Alto, where the future of the libraries has become an emotionally charged issue, a recent gift from the Friends of the Palo Alto Library brought more consternation than congeniality.

The City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to reject a $100,000 donation from the organization, which aggressively defends the libraries and their branches. The Friends hoped the city would use the funds to purchase a modular (temporary) building to maintain public space in the city's Downtown Library while the Children's Library temporarily closes for renovation next year.

The city plans to move some technical staff to the downtown branch during the construction, allowing some Children's Library programs and collection to move into the larger Main Library building.

But Library Director Paula Simpson, who had been at odds with the Friends over a plan to shrink the number of libraries in town, thinks the donation "makes no financial sense."

The donation is "a costly endeavor that doesn't solve the longstanding problem of inadequate library facilities," Simpson said in a memo to the council.

The total cost of purchasing and operating a modular building would exceed $400,000, she said.

She said city librarians are already overworked. To have staff oversee a new building during the Children's Library construction "eliminates the possibility of relief, albeit temporary, for a staff that is stretched unacceptably thin."

Elaine Meyer, president of the University South Neighborhood Association, expressed disappointment at the council's action.

"Perhaps citizens' views come after that of the staff and the council," she said. Meyer worried the city would eventually close the Downtown Library because fewer people would use it.

In her memo, Simpson warned "about the growing demands of the Downtown Branch interest group" and noted "the Main Library serves almost four times the number of people who use the Downtown Branch."

Underlying the discussion was last year's controversial recommendation from Simpson and City Manager Frank Benest to close the Downtown and College Terrace branches to improve service at the larger, more popular branches. The Friends of the Palo Alto Library lobbied against that plan, which the council ultimately rejected.

The Library Advisory Commission is surveying residents this fall to gather input about the future of the city's library service, and plans to return to the council in March with recommendations.

The city manager's office rejected the Friends' gift earlier this year but the organization appealed that decision to the council.

Technically, the council voted against placing the issue on a future meeting's agenda. Councilwomen LaDoris Cordell, Hillary Freeman, and Yoriko Kishimoto urged their colleagues to reconsider.

"We should remove the emotional baggage and discuss the issue rationally," Kishimoto said. Freeman underlined the need for the council to take a leadership role and build relationships between differing library organizations.

Councilman Jack Morton, who said he was "conflicted" and "torn," also voted in favor of reconsideration. Both Kishimoto and Morton are running for re-election this fall.

— Suman Mudamula and Bill D'Agostino

Comments

There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Early Decision Blues
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 2,231 views

One night only: ‘Occupy the Farm’ screening in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,126 views

First Interview
By Sally Torbey | 10 comments | 1,384 views

Death with Dignity
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,324 views

Guest Post #2 from HSSV: Labradoodle Back on His Feet
By Cathy Kirkman | 2 comments | 410 views