Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 7, 2010

Shorter hours, smaller collections eyed for Palo Alto libraries

City ponders keeping some libraries closed, trimming budget for new collections

by Gennady Sheyner

For Palo Alto's library supporters, the city's latest budget proposal is the ultimate buzz kill.

It should be a happy time. The city's $76 million library-improvement project is sailing along swimmingly and, in some cases, ahead of schedule, city officials said this week. Fundraising efforts for library furniture are accelerating, and the Downtown Library just closed down for major renovations — an event city leaders commemorated with a cheerful ceremony.

But with the city facing a $7.3 million budget deficit, it now appears increasingly likely that the new, state-of-the-art libraries will have shorter hours and smaller collections than residents expected when they passed Measure N in 2008. City Manager James Keene's proposed budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1, slashes the Library Department's budget for collections by 18 percent — meaning fewer new books, reference materials and electronic resources. Keene also proposed keeping all libraries closed on Monday and changing the closing time at Mitchell Park and Main libraries from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The College Terrace Library, which is currently undergoing construction, would be closed until summer of 2011, despite the fact that the renovations are scheduled to be completed this fall. Keeping the branch closed for an extra eight months is expected to save the city about $74,000. The Downtown Library's bond-funded renovation is scheduled to be completed in spring of 2011, but the budget proposes to keep the branch closed until the end of June 2011.

Library Director Diane Jennings said her department, in proposing the cuts, tried to spread the impacts widely to avoid affecting any group of library users disproportionately. Some stay in the libraries for hours without checking anything out, she said. Others pick up their materials and leave quickly, while others use the library system remotely. Accordingly, the budget cuts her department identified seek to strike a balance between the collection budget, the hours of operation and the available library services.

Jennings also emphasized that most of the cuts in the department's budget are things that could be restored if the economic climate improves. A few, such as deferring opening the College Terrace branch, are clearly temporary. Still, she said some residents, including former City Council member Dena Mossar, said they were worried about the proposed deferral.

"People are very eager to get into their libraries," Jennings said. "They don't want to see their libraries not being available for an extended period of time."

Jim Schmidt, president of Friends of the Palo Alto Library, told the Weekly this week he has not yet seen a credible argument for deferring the opening of the two branches. He also said he expects the proposed cuts to the library budget to hit new books particularly hard. Because new materials are the ones that attract the most interest, the cuts would likely lead to an overall decline in library use.

But Schmidt, who also sits on a committee that oversees expenditure of Measure N funds, said it's important not to mix up the city's yearly budget woes with the bond-funded capital project, which appears to be proceeding smoothly. On Monday night, the City Council is expected to authorize staff to sell $60 million in bonds for renovations of Downtown, Main and Mitchell Park libraries and for the new Mitchell Park Community Center.

This past Monday, the council also heard a report from project architects and city officials involved in the Measure N projects. Mike Sartor, assistant director of the Public Works Department, said the city has been hurrying along to take advantage of the favorable construction-bid climate.

Under the current timeline, the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center are scheduled to open in the middle of 2012, with the Main Library following a year later.

The council also approved a new "naming" policy to acknowledge major donors to the library project. The Palo Alto Library Foundation, a nonprofit group that spearheaded the Measure N drive, is now leading a campaign to raise $4.3 million for library furniture, equipment and fixtures — items not funded by Measure N.

The naming plan, presented by foundation President Alison Cormack Monday, calls for those who donate between $1 million and $2 million to have their names displayed in more prominent areas (including the new wing at the Main Library and the prominent meeting room shared by the Mitchell Park Library and the Mitchell Park Community Center), while those who donate between $100,000 and $200,000 would have their names attached to some of the smaller rooms in the new facilities (including the teen room at the Main Library and the study room in the Downtown Library).

The rooms themselves would be named after local neighborhoods and landmarks (Midtown Room, Barron Park Room, Ventura Room, El Palo Alto Room). The donors' names would be displayed next to the room names.

Cormack said the foundation has already raised more than $500,000, which includes verbal commitments, formal pledges and money in the bank. She called the library renovations the "largest project in the city in many decades" and encouraged residents to support the foundation's fundraising efforts (information is available at PALF.org).

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 6, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I would love to see Downtown and College Terrace repurposed for another (non-library) use. We should take advantage of the fiscal downturn to become fiscally sensible. Add a bookmobile, use the school libraries for additional pick-ups.... Lets be creative and less selfish.


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I agree with palo alto mom.


Posted by Mitchell Park Resident, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2010 at 8:27 pm

The libraries must take their share of cuts along with Police and Fire Departments. No one is exempt. The cuts that have been proposed seem quite minimal and fair given the extent of the City's budget deficit. The usual suspects are whining again, and I don't have any sympathy.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm

That Los Altos library keeps looking better and better. Seriously, if you haven't been there you should - it will pain you to see how much better it is in every regard.

Question - wouldn't Palo Alto be better off joining the Santa Clara County library system? We'd get the benefit of their scale purchasing and management (one of the best run systems in the country) while funding our own buildings and hours as we do know. I don't know how much it would save, but it would have to be better than what we have.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm

This is pathetic.

We will have 5 libraries and they will be closed when they should be open. If we had been sensible we could have one (or perhaps two) decent libraries, fully staffed, fully stocked and open. Instead we will have second rate service.

Enough said.


Posted by lib, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2010 at 9:07 pm

I'm a huge fan of the Children's library. Nice staff. Ok hours. Lots of nice spots to read with the kids.


Posted by Jenny, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 6, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Me Too says: "Wouldn't Palo Alto be better off joining the Santa Clara County library system?" No, because there are rules and regulations about joining the Santa Clara Library system.

For one thing we would have to reduce the number of library buildings we have and there are certain elements in this City that won't let us close College Terrace or Downtown libraries. Maybe you've noticed that each City in the Santa Clara Library system has one good library each.


Posted by George, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2010 at 10:43 pm

No Jenny, that's not so. Most of the cities in the county have several branches. Los Altos, Santa Clara, and of course San Jose.


Posted by Insomnia, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 7, 2010 at 5:08 am

Actually, the San Jose and Santa Clara libraries you are referring to are not part of the Santa Clara County Library system. Those are city libraries, like Palo Alto, under the governance of their respective cities, not the county library system. Although yes, Los Altos is part of the county system and does have 2 libraries. It would appear that a city of our size would also be mandated to have only 2 branches if we join the Santa Clara County system.

On another note, at the Finance Committee meeting Thursday night, a library supporter mentioned the lack of cuts to management in the budget proposal. According to him, there are 0% cuts to management, even though there are 2 fewer buildings to manage during the library closures. I would think the higher-end salaries are in management and one management position cut could potentially save two non-management jobs, both of which probably account for part of the savings outlined in closing Mondays.

Just a thought.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2010 at 7:06 am

I don't know anything about mandates. In Los Altos, they have a special tax district for the libraries which they use to provide the open hours that they choose at the two branches. My guess is that we could tax ourselves to have any branch and open hours level we choose - but at least we would have scale administration.

Seriously, go to Los Altos library sometime and tell me you wouldn't vastly prefer that to anything we have in Palo Alto. One of the librarians at Los Altos told me once that they gave worn books to Palo Alto from time to time, since the standard for shelf-quality was lower in Palo Alto.


Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2010 at 7:09 am

George,

What other system has 1 library for every 12,000 citizens?
We are way out of line with the neighboring communities.


Posted by library user, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 7, 2010 at 8:16 am

"Jim Schmidt, president of Friends of the Palo Alto Library, told the Weekly this week he has not yet seen a credible argument for deferring the opening of the two branches"

Hey, Jim, didn't you read? It saves the city $148,000!


Posted by anon, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on May 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

Yes, the Los Altos library is much more inviting than the Palo Alto libraries. I live in Palo Alto, about midway between Mitchell and the main Los Altos library - it's an easy choice about which one to patronize.

I only use the PA library on the rare occasion it has a book in its collection that the Santa Clara County library system doesn't. You don't have to live in Los Altos to get a library card.


Posted by palo alto grandmother, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2010 at 10:07 am

I agree with Palo Alto mom; we should close College Terrace and Downtown libraries permanently. The population of Palo Alto does not warrant all these libraries. We should really just have one in South Palo Alto and it could be wonderful. However, people in the different neighborhoods lay claim to their little treasures and do not want change even for the good of all.


Posted by George, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2010 at 10:53 am

Yes I thought this was interesting too:
Insomnia wrote

at the Finance Committee meeting Thursday night, a library supporter mentioned the lack of cuts to management in the budget proposal. According to him, there are 0% cuts to management, even though there are 2 fewer buildings to manage during the library closures. I would think the higher-end salaries are in management and one management position cut could potentially save two non-management jobs, both of which probably account for part of the savings outlined in closing Mondays.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2010 at 11:30 am

What happened to the former Palo Alto City Auditor's list asking for changes in part because the changes would better track how money is spent and in part because the changes would save money? The last report I read said that only three changes had been implemented. It's good news the College Terrace library will open on time. Saving money at the expense of the libraries is the wrong way to go. We should save money by continuing to implement the city's recommendations.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"Palo Alto Mom" of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland Manor, supported by "Midtowner", calling for the closure of the College Terrace Library and labeling those who support that branch as "selfish" is unmitigated arrogance -- it is a call to remove services from an already badly under-served section of the city in order to improve services in her section of the city that has a wealth of such services. It would seem that she is the one that is being selfish.

My experience with the Main, Mitchell Park and College Terrace branches is that College Terrace is busier than Main relative to its size and staffing. This impression was supported by the limited metrics available from the Library (several years ago).


Posted by Palo Alto Grandmother, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

To the Mitchell Park Resident, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood who said that all city employees should take cuts, not just the Fire and Police. The 600 non management employees did take cuts; however, the Police, Fire, and Management did not.

Mr. Keene is protecting his management group and even added management positions, at a time when the lowest paid group of city employees lost full-time, part-time and temporary positions besides compensation. Bad management trickles down from City Manager to his management team and they have the upper hand.

If I were a City employee in the group that took the burden, I would question losing NON management staff and then hiring more management staff to manage less people.

It's not clean. As suggested before, it would have been best if all City employees shared the burden not just a select group.


Posted by Check It, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Yes, let's not make the lowest paid workers the only ones to feel the pain. They should stagger pay cuts, with the biggest cuts for the highest-paid management workers (and take into account the cuts already taken by lower-level workers).


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm

To Douglas Moran

Well, "thanks" to the survival of small, costly branches, we may ALL lose libraries one day a week, as is apparently planned. Yes, all of Palo Alto, for the sake of a small branch or two that serve a very limited population. It has nothing to do with "arrogance"... this situation is actually ludicrous.


Posted by Library User, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 7, 2010 at 5:38 pm

To protest this action, we should do all our library business as much as possible on MONDAYS.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Douglas -

If anyone is underserved, it is South Palo Alto. The renovation of Mitchell Park is a welcome, much needed addition to our library system.

Downtown and College Terrace - even if well used - are tiny branches. Keeping them open cost the whole city in terms of staffing, collections, etc. That is what I deem selfish. We are in debt, we are cutting public safety officers and traffic police. Our libraries throughout the city will close one day a week. All this could be helped by closing (and renting, using for other uses, generating income?, not having to staff and buy books, furniture, computers, etc.) for 2 of our smallest, least used libraries.

We may have no crossing guards at our schools, but the residents of downtown and College Terrace can walk to the library to check out many less books. Except on Monday.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

To Midtowner:
Your claim that the two small branches are "costly" and "serve a very limited population" is contradicted by the Library budget numbers. The two accounted for 17% of the library visits, but only about 8% of the budget. The small branches are cheaper in large part because
1. The are focused on providing the basic services (vs the more specialized ones) and thus their staffing costs are less
2. They have far poorer collections
3. They are open less: fewer hours per day and closed two days a week.

Furthermore, closing the two small branches has dubious cost savings since doing will require construction of additional parking at Main (already under-parked) plus provision for space for the displaced users. The savings for staff costs are small because the closings would simply transfer demand, not reduce it.

The only scenario I have seen where closing the two branches produces significant cost savings is by reducing library usage through discouraging a significant number of residents from using the libraries.

And "Midtowner", you are arrogant: To keep service in your section of town from being reduced from 7 to 6 days/week, you are advocating reducing the service for significant other sections of the city from 5 days to none. Such a reduction hits especially hard at seniors and parents with small children, both of whom have expressed difficulty getting across town.


Posted by thanks, doug, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2010 at 8:08 pm

"The small branches are cheaper in large part because
...
3. They are open less: fewer hours per day and closed two days a week"

Reducing their hours further would even make them more efficient. Say, open for 2 hours in the morning on the last Saturday in the month! Yeah, they'd be really efficient and cheap then.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

To "Palo Alto Mom"
Misconception: The College Terrace Library does not serve just College Terrace, it serves much of the El Camino corridor. Mitchell Park does _not_ serve "south Palo Alto" -- it serves _southeast_ Palo Alto. I hear many residents of southwest PA rate the Los Altos branch of the County system ahead of MP. Many seniors in southwest Palo Alto find (current) Mitchell Park intimidating: too crowded, with the fast-moving teenagers making them feel uncomfortable.

As to closing the Downtown library: The City policy is to encourage higher density development in the University Ave downtown area and to make it walkable, with seniors being one focus. It makes no sense to remove one of the most basic of city services from such an area.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm

What do you call a branch library with no books and short hours? A day room. Web Link

Doug, according to the library study from a few years ago over 80% of library visits are by car. We're promoting neighborhood thinking in a global world. We never had resources for five useful libraries. Circulation growth is DVDs, not books. We could buy your constituency lattes at Peets, best sellers and Netflix subscriptions and still have enough money to build one good library for the rest of us.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Palo Alto Mom - it's unfair to blame the proposed cutting of school crossing guards on the downtown & college terrace libraries. I can think of many other areas that could be cut in order to provide funding for school crossing guards:

1) Does there need to be an assistant city manager ($190,000 salary + $95,000 benefits), a deputy city manager ($170,000 salary + $85,000 in benefits), an assistant to the city manager ($140,000 salary + $70,000 benefits), another assistant to the city manager ($110,000 + $55,000 benefits)?

2) Does the city need to provide money to refurbish BMR units that come up for resale?

3) The city donated land at 801 Alma to build BMR units - land worth millions of dollars, yet pleads poverty.

4) Look at the organization charts - you'll find quite a few cases of managers with very few reports - can we consolidate?

5) Look at all the recent work and people involved with "zero waste", "climate change" studies, etc. What if the city instead focused the dollars spent on these staff people instead on public safety?

There's plenty of things in the budget that I think residents would prioritize below the school crossing guards, but the City Manager is playing politics by not even putting them up for discussion.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm

"There's plenty of things in the budget that I think residents would prioritize below the school crossing guards…"

I agree. But the city apparently has no notion of priorities. If it did, why would it cut school crossing guards and keep a graphic designer in the budget department?

The proposed budget is at Web Link
Cuts are listed starting on pdf page 20.

Supposedly, everything on the city manager's list of 33 proposed cuts is up for discussion.

Supposedly, resident input is welcome.

Supposedly, residents can suggest cuts that are not on the city manager's list.

Yet I can't help wondering just how the final decisions will be made. For example, the Finance Committee already voted to re-open College Terrace Library in the fall, though the proposed cuts would have kept it closed until summer 2011 to save $74,000.

How many other sacred cows will be preserved?

I can't help wondering what the function of a library is today and what it will be in the coming years with e-books, downloadable content, etc. already pervasive.

Another newspaper recently wrote: "The libraries are our community's learning and entertainment centers. In addition to housing thousands of books, movies, music CDs and other media, the libraries are meeting places for various scheduled talks, and offer programs for toddlers and teens."

Have libraries changed their mission? I never thought my tax dollars were paying for entertainment centers.


Posted by To Palo Alto Mom, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 8, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Question - do you know how feasible a bookmobile might be? You may not, but just wondering how feasible it might be. Seems to be a great idea, one that could realistically have corporate sponsorship (I can't believe I just typed that!) in lieu of draining city coffers.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Pat,

Modern firefighters don't fight fires and modern libraries don't loan books.

They do many other useful things, but 95% of FD incidents are non-fire and 100% of library circulation growth is media.

The refurbish-all-the-branches train has already left the station. We'll have a bunch of much nicer reading rooms than we used to have with not many... books. There may even be a bunch of nice people with titles like Librarian I and Librarian II to help you load your laptop and find stuff on Google, Wikipedia and even Amazon (if you really need a book).

All the second-guessing about how many senior staff it takes to run a nearly $500M City is not helpful. Cutting crossing guards is political. Sparing Avenidas is equally political.


Posted by stoopid, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 8, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Wait, we just agreed a huge bond for refurbishing libraries we can't afford to run?
Who's dumb idea was that?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2010 at 8:32 am

Stoop

Yes. You said it.

The blame falls squarely on those promoting the library Bond and every person who voted. The cost of running the libraries was always a no no question. Now we are stuck with getting libraries renovated for shorter hours. All this talk about more hours than our neighbors' libraries is proving to be put out with the cat.

We want a library that is open for longer hours. Not many libraries open for very few hours!!!


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2010 at 9:19 am

I offered the library system pristine, classic books, some folio and 'coffee table' size, in art
and history. I'd love to give them to College Terrace. But the library told me to take them to the "Friends of the Library" for resale. These I will not. There must be a library that would like to add to its collection, and I know our libraries do not have some of these art books. Why doesn't the city wants really valuable books like these? I buy from Amazon when our libraries do not have what I want. I'd be delighted to give them to our system particularly for the smaller sites.


Posted by Reader, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2010 at 11:34 am

I had a similar experience. Offered them 4 books in new condition, just as good or better than on the shelf. They said no.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Our libraries are sad, our library politics sadder. And meantime, I just go to Los Altos and enjoy their excellent library, courtesy of the Santa Clara County system and the Los Altos library tax district. No drama - just a modern, well-run library with a fine collection.

Selfishness, thy name is Palo Alto. Not all citizens - but enough to poison the well for all.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

>"Wait, we just agreed a huge bond for refurbishing libraries we can't afford to run?"

That's correct.

The 2007 library audit verified that more branches require more staff and more money for operating costs like maintenance, gardening, utilities, etc.

Consultants hired by the city in 2008 said the estimated annual cost for furniture, computers, books, etc. could range between $750,000 - $1.1 M. The Palo Alto Library Foundation is now trying to raise $6M for all that stuff.

Would the library bond pass if it was on the ballot today? It's costing us $76M + about $73M in debt services.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Since various of the comments here demonstrate no familiarity with the process of budget cutting, some background seems appropriate.

Prime directive: Don't be "Penny wise, pound foolish". Many apparent savings are illusory--overwhelmed by the costs once you do a careful analysis.

1. Achieving savings is much harder than most realize: If you follow the stock market, you are likely aware that mergers, acquisitions and reorganizations are routinely met with substantial skepticism because experience is that the claimed savings/synergies often fail to materialize (in whole or in large part).

2. Transferring costs from yourself to your customers is usually counterproductive, especially when the costs to your customers are significantly higher than your "savings". Example: The City's proposal to have residents pay for sidewalk repair (discussed in Web Link). Example: A software vendor cutting technical support risks a delayed drop in revenue, either from reduced sales quantity or reduced prices.

3. Transferring costs from one section of your budget to another isn't a "savings". But it is a common tactic to make it appear that there are savings (or a leaner operation).

4. The more simplistic the cut, the more likely you are to have these effects. Example: Schwarzenegger's across-the-board furlough of state employees included tax collectors, and the resulting decrease in collections was many times larger than the savings.

5. Simplistic cuts are often done not because they make sense but because they are what can be ordered by top management in the face of a middle and lower management that is unwilling or unable to identify where there are inefficiencies that can produce actual savings. Palo Alto is different from the corporations because we have citizens who are outside the internal politics and who know enough about various proportions of the City's operation to make useful suggestions. We just don't take adequate advantage of such.

On the library specifically:

1. The claim that Palo Alto's branches were too expensive was introduced by the previous Library Director (Paula Simpson). Best evidence is that it was nothing more than her prejudice -- her agenda was to build a new central library, despite the absence of a credible site. At the time she made this claim, she did not have any analysis supporting it, and, despite repeated prodding, she never produced an analysis that could be meaningfully critiqued. Furthermore, when citizens deeply involved with the library produced analyses to the contrary, she couldn't show where they went wrong. I scanned the 2007 Audit (cited above), but didn't participate in discussions (because there was nothing actionable by citizens). My impression was that it made a number of good suggestions, but missed significant aspects of the earlier discussions.

2. The costs of the smaller branches are routinely exaggerated. For example, a comment above (Pat) cites utility and landscaping costs (from the 2007 audit).
2a. Landscaping: The lawn around the College Terrace Library functions as a small park and should not be viewed as a library cost: It would be unaffected by any changes to library operation, with the "savings" being illusory because those costs would simply be transferred elsewhere in the budget.
2b. Utilities: The costs are small. Example: The CT Library is open 35 hours/week (11-6pm on 5 days), doesn't have A/C, and is similar in size to many Palo Alto homes--it is listed at 2,400 sqft, although that might be the size of the building it shares. For comparison, Main Library is over 20,000 sqft (excluding basement), open 62 hr/wk.
Similarly, the portrayal of CT and Downtown branches as creating significant amounts of unnecessary duplication is typically based the false assumption that they are full-blown branches, instead of the reality that they are focused on a subset of the higher-demand services.

3. During the debate over the libraries under the previous Library Director (Simpson), a range of inefficiencies and potential inefficiencies were identified. However, nothing was done, attributed to the then-City Manager (Benest) having a modus operandi of putting the interests of staff ahead of those of the residents.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Kate and Reader: public libraries just don't typically operate in a flexible manner where they individually evaluate and add to their collections; it is done in a systematic fashion. I am NOT trying to justify this system, just explain it. Your pristine, special items are going to be hard to place. Even major university libraries turn down special collections (or sell them off), often a shock to the would be donor.


Posted by thanks, doug, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Doug, you do realize that Palo Alto's library budget is twice that of neighboring cities and they are open less hours *already* than those in neighboring cities. We are now planning on reducing them further!
This claim that Palo Alto's branches were too expensive isn't a figment of the previous Director's imagination, it's all there in the audit report. Twice as much money for less hours and branches aren't "too expensive"?
What on earth are you talking about?


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Doug loves them branches - clouds his judgment I think. Every library system in the country looks at shutting branches to save money, any many do - there are hundreds of examples through the last couple years. I have nothing against the tiny branches per se, but it is crazy to pay for such a thing when we are cutting things like school crossing guards!


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

To "thanks, doug, a resident of Evergreen Park":

Your faulty logic is an example of precisely what I was attempting to caution people about. Your argument is: The audit showed that the overall library _system_ was more expensive than similar systems, therefore the cause must be supposed inefficiencies from the small branches (no evidence). Do you have a citation for the costs - both capital and operational - of transferring services from the smaller branches to the remaining ones?

Consider that since Main has long been tight for space, such a transfer would likely require new construction there, both for the library building itself and for a parking structure (in the various discussions, I didn't hear any suggestions on how to significantly increase parking at Main using only surface parking). In considering how much construction would be needed, remember that 17% of the visits to the library system were to the two small branches and thus would become auto trips to the remaining branches.

Since such construction is so expensive as to be implausible, what a proposal to close the small branches is really doing is to achieve service reductions by using crowding to discourage existing users, rather than by making rational choices about priorities and the most cost-effective way to achieve them.

I am harping on this because my experience with the Palo Alto budgeting is that it is too often dominated by emotion and "seems to me" decisions with grossly inadequate analysis, and thus winds up wasting lots of money.


Posted by thanks, doug, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 10, 2010 at 8:22 am

Oh, Doug, Doug, Doug, have you ever visited Main? You could expand the surface parking threefold without encroaching on any parkland!

And, if it wasn't for the branch "advocates", Mitchell would have been updated back in 2000 at half the price of the current bond and ample parking!

Your arguments are spurious. The audit explicitly pointed out that the increased cost to the Palo Alto system is caused by the number of branches it has. Read it, it's enlightening.

That doesn't mean that Palo Altans don't want branches, they do! But don't try to pretend that the branch system isn't the cause of the running cost blow-out. And we now have ALL libraries closed one day a week. It's really sad to be spending all this money and to have to visit Mountain View if I want to go to the library on Mondays.
As was said above: Wait, we just agreed a huge bond for refurbishing libraries we can't afford to run?


Posted by Reader, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2010 at 9:23 am

The Council's Finance Committee just asked the Library Director to come back with a plan for keeping the remaining libraries open on Monday. (2 are already completely closed for remodeling). Thanks to Councilman Sharff who questioned what was really behind the closings. And the other committee members agreed.
They didn't accept the ridiculous idea of closing all. So I don't think she will get away with that one.
The budget plan is a library director's dream: close some libraries and reduce book acquisition.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 10, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "thanks, doug, ..."
His claim that "Palo Alto's library budget is twice that of neighboring cities" is wrong. According to the docs I could find, Palo Alto's cost per capita is $99.12 vs $94.70 for Redwood City, $72.36 for Menlo Park, and $64.65 for Mountain View, and PA reports higher circulation and visits.

His claim that PA Lib is open less hours than neighboring cities is dubious. PA Main Library is open 62 hr/wk, Menlo Park's main is open only 59, and Redwood City and Mountain View are at 63 and 64. These differences are inconsequential because they represent the hours of lowest usage.

His claim that "branch 'advocates'" caused the failure of the previous Mitchell Park update is contrary to my recollection: I remember the problems arising from advocates for the Arts Center wanting it included in the bond and opposition from users of the tennis courts.

On his claim about there being enough room for parking increases, play with the numbers yourself. For a back-of-the-envelope estimate, I would assume that the visits divide up thus:
35% for each of Main and Mitchell Park
10% for each of Children's, College Terrace and Downtown
(I do NOT know these numbers except for 17% for CT+Downtown).
For example, if you close Downtown and assume that all those visits go to Main, that is a 29% increase. If you add the closing of Children's, again assuming all going to Main, that is a 29+29=58% increase. And remember that not all the available space on the site can be used for parking because the building would need to be expanded.

Rather than the branches, could poor management because the major cause why Palo Alto has such higher costs than Menlo Park (2 branches)? In the previous major budget considerations, multiple residents with strong backgrounds in management threw up their hands in frustration because the structure of the library budget didn't allow them to answer basic questions about costs. Since staffing is a major costs, one of the key unanswered questions has been whether the library has adjusted the mix to reflect changed usage. It has been observed that librarians in the top pay category spend substantial time on tasks appropriate for much lower categories of employees.


Posted by thanks, doug, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Oh, Doug, Doug, Doug, stop digging! I'll put you out of your misery. Here's the link to the audit report: Web Link

Page 16:

Exhibit 7: Library Spending Per Capita FY 2005-06

Palo Alto $97.01
Santa Clara $57.70
Mountain View $55.19
Menlo Park $61.68
Sunnyvale $49.97

You admit that Palo Alto libraries are open less than Mountain View & Redwood City. (Don't get me started on Santa Clara libraries, just check where Santa Clara is in the league of libraries in California).

You brought up the parking as a major issue. Now you're trying to make up numbers around it! Oh boy, stop being desperate. You've got no hard data on your pet theory where you have independent audit reports claiming the opposite:

"As shown in Exhibit 7, Palo Alto spends more per capita than other local jurisdictions and is open more hours. However, no other neighboring library system has as many facilities."

Give up!


Posted by Another Reader, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Reader....why do you say that closing libraries and reducing book acquisitions is the library director's dream???? That just makes no sense!


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Come on Council, just grow up and use the budget disaster to do what you should have done in the first place and close the branches. Notice btw that no-one cries about Terman branch being closed - all those patrons now just happily go to Los Altos library and laugh about the bad old days. Shut branches, join the Santa Clara system, and welcome the golden age of Palo Alto libraries. Better late than never!


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm

"… my experience with the Palo Alto budgeting is that it is too often dominated by emotion and 'seems to me' decisions with grossly inadequate analysis, and thus winds up wasting lots of money."

I absolutely agree. Emotion is what is keeping all the library branches open. Even Alison Cormack, president of the Palo Alto Library Foundation says, "I left my personal preferences (for at least one large library) somewhere along the line in 2006…"
Web Link

Emotion is what is keeping the city from cutting anything from the Children's Theatre, Jr. Museum, Art Center, Golf Course while cutting school crossing guards and traffic teams and shifting sidewalk repairs to residents.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Agree, it is TIME to use a hardheaded business perspective. Are there any local politicians/city officials with a backbone.
Cut the nonsensical pet allocations like PA Children's Theatre and the others mentioned above and PRIORITIZE on what is needed. I have a family member who just returned here after an absence and promptly remarked about the terrible state of some of this city's streets.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2010 at 12:42 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE "thanks, doug, a resident of the Evergreen Park" claim that I got the numbers on per capita expenditures wrong:

I used the most recent numbers -- for FY 2008-2009 -- from the state's web site (Web Link under "California Library Statistics 2010"). S/he attacks my knowledge (and credibility?) because numbers from 3 years earlier are different.

What more need be said about his/her knowledge and the competence of the arguments.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2010 at 12:53 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Oh, I forgot a point: Even when "thanks, doug, a resident of the Evergreen Park" gets to choose his own numbers, they still contradict his/her claim "Palo Alto's library budget is twice that of neighboring cities".


Posted by Dolores, a resident of Green Acres
on May 11, 2010 at 2:04 am

Didn't we go over this ad nauseum a few years ago, before the VAST majority of Palo Altans voted for a library bond? Looks like some leftover sore losers are showing up on this thread.
Look, just add up how much the return are for benefits received from the community, by the library. A number of those studies have already been done, and every single one of them shows a positive ROI (in terms of weighted dollar benefits)for every dollar invested in Libraries. The more libraries stay open, the more we benefit. Easy decision there, Jimbo.

About the budget cuts: Look, what's happening here is what's happening in a lot of cities now that we're in the soup, caused by huge, worldwide structural changes. So, all most City Councils and their hired hand City Managers can do to divert attention is come up with reams of budget cuts, making everyone angry, or panicked, and forcing really hard service cut decisions on the citizens. Nice smoke screen for feckless governance models that don't adapt very well, eh? Look, Palo Alto is going to continue to loose services, and management will not suffer very much because management never suffers if management is the one to stop the pain. That doesn't mean that management is evil; it just means that management is human. What do you expect. People protect what's theirs; I write that with due respect for Jim Keene.

That said, what has changed in Palo Alto since we have become challenged, in terms of our governance model? Not a thing. We still elect 9 well-meaning Council members who dont' even rotate out of office at the same time! Tell me, how do you get things done with that many people who come and go in staggered terms. Who's responsible for any large decisions. Who? *Nobody*, because it's a diffuse decision-making body. They do their best, but they can't lead. How do you lead in a situation like that. Occasionally the Council will unanimously support a project, like they did the library, but that was an easy one. What about the hard decisions? What about setting aggressive milestones for improvement and adaptability? Sorry, that isn't going to happen because there are too many chefs in the kitchen.

One day, maybe we'll elect a mayor. That will not solve our problems, but it would surely introduce far more accountability into our governance model. It would force the City Manager to work toward aggressive goals, instead of playing footsie with the Council and oru citizenry, with the result that the City Managers we hire are superb "PC" types. I'm not knocking Jim Keene, but that's really his main gig - keeping everyone happy. His job is not to innovate. His job is to placate; to keep things down to a dull roar; to protect turf. That's just the way it is, and why all the so-called smart people in this town have not questioned the repetitive nature of a slowly failing governance model (in terms of its ability to maintain advantage, and really solve problems, instead of the too-often goofy things we see raining down (like closing libraries on Monday - just pathetic! - add up the social costs for that closure, and translate it to cumulative dollars in cost; the cost in social benefit (that translates to dollars) will be MORE than the money saved - the formulas are there, but they won't be used, not in he current environment). And we're supposed to be a smart community?

I have an answer to all this; it's an answer that most Council members don't like, and that the City Manager doesn't like. Reduce the size of City Council to make decision-making more adept, and adaptable. *Elect* a mayor who has just enough separation of power to hire and fire the City Manager. Then, sit back and watch things change. You won't like everything, but then you won't be stuck with the empty promises made by campaigning Council candidates, because it takes a majority of nine (with many of the nine rotating out every few years). Pay the mayor and City Council members a decent wage; that will guarantee more variety on Council. Just watch the change in behavior of our politicians and the City Manager. They would have something to lose. If they don't perform, they're gone, and we get a chance to start with a new, elected mayor, instead of being stuck with a system that does not know anything but long deliberations, and that by design passes the responsibility buck to a City Manager who is really a 10th politician, and a well paid one, at that, and who is trying like the dickens to keep his/her job.

The real tragedy is that everyone is trying to do a good job, but the governance environment doesn't permit turn on a dime innovation and fresh thinking. It encourages more of the same, and knee-jerk double bottom line accounting solutions (slash and burn) when things get tough. And this is supposed to be a smart community? Prove it! Get down with forcing change on a system that no longer functions to the larger benefit of all. Yes, some austerity is called for, but where's the innovation? And by innovation I don't mean weekly trips to IDEO to hear about "new ideas" - a practice inspired by one of our honorable former mayors. I mean, really, can we get serious in this City, and dig deeper than balance sheets? Good grief!




Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2010 at 7:48 am

Dolores, I actually like the idea of an elected Mayor with authority. The truth is that the council has very little power and even less incentive to use what it has. As decision making bodies go, the closest analog I can think of is the student council at a high school. Sure, they hire the city manager, but that person has even less incentive to take a difficult stand. I've kind of despaired that anything will change on that front until a good, long, sustained fiscal crisis hits (5-10 years from now?) or we get lucky.

As to libraries, yes, at the end of the asset bubble/boom we voted for the bond. Try that vote again today. The library branches are a good example of city government with no incentive (will) to say "no" to anything. Heck, later the council even ignored the recommendations of its own city commission, leading to the commission head to resign in protest. Heck, let me take back the student council analogy - that's too maligning to student councils.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2010 at 9:53 am

OMG, the ROI theory of libraries is back! Following Dolores' argument, we should just open 10 or 20 more libraries and the budget problem will be solved solved.


Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

Are you back "Mike"?

"and every single one of them shows a positive ROI ..."

Please point out to me on the cities budget how much revenue the libraries generated for the general fund. Cant do it can you? Libraries are a expense for the city. At best they save the citizens some money because media is in a common pool. Savings on expenses is not ROI. The savings on expenses is what those studies demonstrated. I agree though, we should build the buildings as that is what the majority voted for. There was no vote on expenses to run the buildings, hours of operation, or acquisition of materials.

"before the VAST majority of Palo Altans voted for ..."

can you say High Speed rail?
can you say school bond?
etc

I noticed when I moved up here this is what Bay folk seem to do.
When the minority loses, it disrupts the process.
Sounds like both parties in Washington, doesn't it.


Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2010 at 10:50 am

oh and also we did not vote for a 5 branch system. We voted to rehab 3 sites, main, mitchell, and downtown. College Terrace was done seperately because it was believed that if it was part of the bond vote, the vote would lose (Non-College Terrace folks would vote against) and if it was not addressed someway, the bond would lose (College Terrace folks would vote against). It was a very creative approach that got the bond passed.
College Terrace realy does not make sense fiscally except PA politics makes any service once available hard to eliminate.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm

The wording was upgrading the libraries, not whether we wanted 5 libraries.

The whole point of this was not to find out if we wanted 5 branches, but whether we wanted any upgrades or not. If we had voted no then we would not be having work done anywhere yet. Many voters were so fed up with the bad facilities that they voted yes just to start the work. The last time a library bond was rejected it took years before anything else was done. Many people - rightly so - knew that if the bond was rejected then nothing would be done for at least 5 years.

This was not just a referendum on whether we liked branches. It was a vote to get something done rather than nothing.


Posted by Dolores, a resident of Green Acres
on May 12, 2010 at 2:08 am

I really get a kick out of the sour grape eaters here, like pat and RS - they just don't know how to lose with grace. Yeah! Libraries!!


Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2010 at 6:21 am

It is you, welcome back.


Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 13, 2010 at 12:59 pm

In the last few years, I have really taken advantage of our public libraries. The downtown library is not that far, and the college terrace branch is super close. I personally dont like the downtown branch, and the mitchell park branch is a bit off the beaten path for me. Still, I think that residents deserve to have access to all these locations.
I have been looking forward to college terrace reopening, and am saddened by a delay. I will make due without complaint.
A reduction in collections seems bad after all the argument from FOPAL some time ago, and the resignation of that nice lady from city council that resulted.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

> "I really get a kick out of the sour grape eaters here, like pat and RS - they just don't know how to lose with grace."

I didn't lose, Dolores. The city lost and is now cutting the budget because it can no longer afford all the services and salaries.


Posted by libram, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Or, in other words, "I told you so".


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