Palo Alto Weekly
Spectrum - October 24, 2008
Guest Opinion: It's long past time to renew our libraries
by Alison Cormack
I support Measure N because it is a reasonable plan to fix our embarrassing libraries. And, it's past time to renew our libraries in this city!
Our libraries are heavily used, even in this era of computers and the Internet. Our circulation is up 45 percent in the past seven years and totaled 1.5 million books, DVDs and other materials in the last fiscal year. Our five libraries have 2,400 visitors every day.
Yet our two primary libraries opened in 1958. Main and Mitchell were built with proceeds from a bond passed in 1956. They were under construction in 1957, the year that Sputnik was launched and Fairchild Semiconductor was founded.
If you think about how much has changed in the world and Silicon Valley since 1957, and you know that our libraries have essentially stayed the same, you can appreciate the problem we have.
We've got Sputnik-era libraries in the age of the iPod and Google.
What do our neighbors provide? Since Measure D failed in 2002, the following communities have built new libraries: San Francisco, Millbrae, Belmont, San Mateo, Redwood City, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Cupertino, San Jose and Morgan Hill. Our city auditor determined that our "cramped and dilapidated" library facilities are in poor condition and the worst in the area.
What does Measure N do? More than 90 percent of the money will be used to build a new, energy-efficient Mitchell Park Library and Community Center and renovate and modestly expand Main Library. Downtown Library will also be renovated using Measure N funds. (Children's Library has already been renovated and expanded and College Terrace will be renovated and brought up to code next year using city funds.) For detailed plans, please visit www.betterlibrariesforpaloalto.com.
How much does it cost? The median assessed home in Palo Alto will pay $139 a year. After the federal income-tax deduction, that's about a latte a week to bring all of our libraries into the 21stcentury. (The tax is assessed at $28.74 per $100,000 of assessed value). It is a 30-year bond to raise up to $76 million, and works just like the school bond passed in June or a home mortgage.
Will we get more books and services? The bond will give us room for 70,000 more books at Mitchell Park, which will be available to everyone in the city with the click of a mouse. We'll also get three kinds of spaces we don't have today:
1) Small rooms where students can prepare oral presentations, tutors can work with English language learners, and entrepreneurs can collaborate on new business plans.
2) Computer training rooms where classes on the library's databases and the Internet can be offered to help with genealogy research, students' homework, travel planning, and much more.
3) A larger program room at Main and Mitchell that is available for author lectures and other community events.
What can't the bond pay for? By law, bond funds cannot pay for staff, books, computers, furniture or maintenance. The Palo Alto Library Foundation is laying the groundwork to spearhead a private fundraising campaign to fill the library with the books, furniture and computers we will need. The City Council will use general funds to pay for the staff and utilities costs. The Council understands this budget challenge and has repeatedly supported this plan unanimously.
Those 1,200 orange lawn signs you see all over town are the result of months of outreach at events, the work of our schools team and the word-of-mouth effect from more than 25 presentations I have made in neighborhoods across the city. Our endorsement list of more than 1,100 supporters includes a wide range of organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Friends of PreSchool Family, Friends of the Palo Alto Library, Addison Elementary PTA, the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation, the Gunn High School Parent Teacher Student Association, the Chinese American Librarians Association, and Stanford University.
This tremendous support demonstrates how committed this city is to renewing our libraries.It has been an honor to be the chair of this important campaign and I ask for your "yes" vote on Measure N.
Please join our team and make better libraries for Palo Alto a reality on Nov. 4.
Alison Cormack is chair of the Better Libraries for Palo Alto campaign and also the President of the Palo Alto Library Foundation. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Resident,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2008 at 12:12 pm
Yes to branch libraries!
For more than 150 years, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America with revolutionary ideas and famous firsts. Established in 1848, the BPL was the first publicly supported municipal library in America, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library and the first to have a children's room. Today, the BPL boasts 27 neighborhood branches, free Internet access, and an award-winning website www.bpl.org. All of its programs and exhibits are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning! Web Link
On Nov. 3, 1998, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved the $196.4 million "Libraries for All" bond measure to upgrade The Seattle Public Library with new facilities, technology, and books. The bond measure, which could be used only for construction of libraries, funded a new central library and new and improved branches. Web Link
The San Francisco Public Library operates twenty-seven (27) branch libraries spread geographically throughout the City. In the book A Free Library in This City, author Peter Booth Wiley provides a detailed history of the development and growth of the San Francisco Public Library. Branch libraries have been a part of the fabric of the communities in which they are located from their inception. In addition to bringing much needed library service to the city's far-reaching neighborhoods they also serve as community centers and in some cases came to be part of a larger complex of community buildings. In 1988, voters approved a Library Bond Program to construct a new Main Library and to renovate branch libraries. From 1990 to 1998, the renovations of five (5) branches were completed: Mission, Park, Presidio, Sunset and Chinatown, which also expanded. Proposition E was passed by the voters in 1994 to increase library hours and ensure a stable funding source for library operations.
In November 2000, San Francisco voters passed the Branch Library Improvement Program (BLIP), totaling $106 million. This bond program provides funds for the renovation of nineteen (19) branches, replacement of four (4) leased spaces by City-owned facilities and the construction of a new branch (number 27) in the emerging Mission Bay neighborhood. Updated information on the revitalization of the branch libraries is available through the Branch Library Improvement Program
The Houston Public Library is a place to learn and to have a lot of fun. You can do both by taking part in the thousands of events and programs that we provide throughout the year. Browse this section of the HPL website and plan your week of activities with friends and family.
"Books with Bite" 2008 Teen Read Month. Web Link
Boise City Council Votes to Fund Branch Libraries.
Boise, ID February 21, 2007) Boise Public Library received the go-ahead for branch libraries last night at the Boise City Council meeting. Council members voted unanimously to approve the most recent version of the Master Library Facility Plan, and to allocate $2,519,670 for the first stages. They also directed the Library to proceed with lease negotiations for two leased "storefront" facilities, which would open this fall.
Suitable branch sites have been identified in the Hillcrest and Collister Shopping Centers. Lease negotiations and preliminary design are expected to take about four months, with a final lease recommendation to be presented to Council for approval in June 2007. Construction would follow, with a grand opening anticipated in October 2007. All four branch libraries would be full-service libraries, offering nearby neighborhoods adult and children's programs, community meeting space, computers and Internet access, books, movies, music, magazines & newspapers and information and reference services. Web Link
Don't children and the public at large suffer, though, when bureaucrats and politicians fixate on downtown library palaces at the expense of neighborhood branches within walking distance of many students? Web Link
Posted by Library user,
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 30, 2008 at 11:46 am
I'm sure I'm not the only one overwhelmed by all the comments on this forum. The over-the-top statements by both pro-N and anti-N posters aren't truly useful to me, and I, for one, won't waste time on debating their positions. We've seen repeatedly that there are people who will oppose ANY and EVERY bond measure, because they are philosophically against any increase in taxes. And I'm sure there are people who would vote for ANY and EVERY library measure, perhaps because they have deep ties to our libraries. At best, these people probably make up only 1-2% of the voters in Palo Alto.
So, for the REST of us, what are we to make of Measure N?
First of all, we should recognize that Measure N is a political compromise. And ANY library proposal will be a political compromise. One library? 2? 3? 4? 5? Everyone probably wants his own local branch. And everyone might think that there's SOME branch that isn't used as heavily. The question we need to answer for ourselves is this: Can we accept the political compromises that have been made? Some people might want a more expensive solution, which provides more city services. Some might be focused on lowering operational costs. Some might focus on connections to other library systems. Some might want different hours of operations. Some might even want things that are currently impossible! Because we need two-thirds majority to approve ANY bond measure, and we won't ALL get EXACTLY what we want, we have to agree upon what's truly important to us.
So... what IS truly important?
It's clear to me that our existing facilities are too small for the people who use them. Look at peak usage levels. If there's no place to sit at peak, then the facility is too small. I think it's important to have a large enough facility for the people who want to use the libraries. Also, if we don't have space for the books/CDs/DVDs to be stored, or space to process holds and returns, we need more space. If we need to expand libraries, we have to decide which ones, and how much. A lot of people looked at a lot of options, and came up with the proposals in Measure N. I don't have the time or expertise to second-guess the years of work that went into that. Those who oppose Measure N because they don't agree that we need more library space probably don't USE the libraries, and don't CARE much about people who do.
Given we want more space, and Measure N provides more space, is there something wrong with the big picture of what Measure N will provide? Some people are so philosophically focused on a single library concept that they will oppose Measure N because of that principle. They MAY agree that we need more space, but they disagree about how to GET it. Since I was not involved in any of the planning meetings, I certainly don't know if a single-building solution was deeply investigated. I don't know if we have any location where a huge single library could be constructed. I deeply suspect it would cost much more than $76M, and we already have significant concern over the current pricetag. Overall, I'm willing to trust the experts here, that the Measure N solution is a reasonable compromise.
So, if we WANT more space, and Measure N provides more space, can we AFFORD it? As I understand it, we're looking at an increase in property taxes of 3%. I do not LIKE paying property taxes. But I can afford this. And I suspect most of our residents can too. Residents who have lived here a long time have low assessed values, and this will be a very, very modest increase. I understand that the economy is in bad shape, and this isn't a good time to increase spending in anything. But this bond measure is a long-term fix to a long-term problem. Waiting until the economy gets stronger would mean living with our library problems longer. If we HAD voted on this measure 4 years ago, would we want to RESCIND it today based on our economy? I believe we need to keep focused on the big picture. Ultimately, our property will be MORE valuable when we have valuable community assets. For people who are concerned about the value of their homes, this is a GOOD measure.
As far as I'm concerned, everything else is noise. I don't care who posted what on what forum. I don't care about placing blame for lies. I don't care about sock puppets. I understand that the City Council still needs to fund operational costs for the libraries, and that there are transitional details to live through while construction is going on, and that we would like to link our libraries into other systems to increase the number of items that we can check out, but Measure N is just about the FACILITIES, and it's a critical first step. I see that we HAVE made MANY improvements in the libraries over the years - our online catalog works well, our self-check systems are good, we have have lots of new books/CDs/DVDs to choose from, we have computers available for online searches - so it's clear that we recognize the importance of our libraries in our community. We simply haven't expanded the facilities themselves in a meaningful way. And we should do that now.
I love libraries. I hope that everyone else who loves libraries in Palo Alto votes Yes on Measure N. And, one more reason to vote Yes on N: If this DOESN'T pass, do we really want to wade through this AGAIN sometime later, over a DIFFERENT proposal?! I, for one, will be very glad when this election is over.