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Why does Palo Alto have libraries?

Original post made by David on Oct 23, 2006

This has been bothering me for some time. We have all these emotional arguments about the purpose and configuration of the PA libraries but fundamental questions never get asked. We live next to one of the largest library systems in the world, that of Stanford University. I assume they know how to efficiently run a library system. Has anybody ever investigated the possibility of contracting out management of the Palo Alto system to Stanford? After all, Stanford buys services (police, fire, etc.) from Palo Alto when they see that it is cost effective. Why can't we do the same? And imagine having access to a merged collection. Alternatively, why not investigate closing the PA libraries and buy all residents access to the Stanford system. Then the library buildings could be converted to teen homework centers and meeting space (which effectively they are now) without the necessity of buying all those books and periodicals and paying for professional research staff when all that is needed is someone to clean up and keep order. Most cities of Palo Alto's size do not have their own library system; they are part of a county library system. How did this come about? I have visited the county library in Davis and it seemed every bit as well equipped as Palo Alto's. Is it more or less efficient to have a city system? David

Comments (13)

Posted by SJSU Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2006 at 2:34 pm

The city of San Jose and San Jose State University share a library and it works extremely well for both. It would make sense to do this here also.


Posted by Lonnie, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2006 at 3:18 pm

This sounds like a great idea. Talk about thinking outside the box. Way to go!


Posted by Future PA Resident, a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2006 at 3:57 pm

re: Closing the libraries... I suspect that some people like the warm fuzzies of having a library in their 'hood (even if it ain't the greatest). Though the Stanford libraries are bigger/better, who wants to fight the logistics of driving into campus and parking when one could just hop over to the neighborhood library. The Mitchell library "feels" like its yours, a Stanford library won't.

I agree though, the library strategy needs some serious rethinking.

FPAR


Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2006 at 1:57 am

Stanford' Library is very limited in its ability to permit large scale visitation by "outsiders" because it receives Federal funding for its libraries that is specifically earmarked for student and research use. The Stanford Library - and the university - is regularly audited by the Federal government to make sure that it complies with the Federal funding rules.

If Stanford goes beyond certain permissible limits for "outside" use of its libraries, it stand to lose this funding. Thus, the relative impossibility of a merger between Stanford and Palo Alto's library system.


Posted by David, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 24, 2006 at 7:53 am

OK. I understand that a merger of the Stanford and Palo Alto systems may not be possible.

But what if Palo Alto were to simply contract out management of its system to Stanford? Would that be acceptable? Would it be cost effective? Would we have a better run system?

David


Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2006 at 10:47 am

Private university student and research libraries are run in an entirely different manner than public libraries. There would be no inherent advantage to contracting out our library service to Stanford University.

Publicn libraries are mandated to provide universal access, private university libraries are not. There would thus be a serious mismatch between operations capabilities, and a thorough understanding of the public library mandate.


Posted by SJSU Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Not to throw a spanner in the works, but how come San Jose State University and the city of San Jose manage it?


Posted by Marianne, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 25, 2006 at 3:52 pm

San Jose State is, in many ways, a "public" library as it is supported by the people of California. Even though not all state residents can check books out, any and all Californians can use its collections by virtue of the fact that taxes support this library. This is not true of Stanford - it is privately supported with only special grants given under special circumstances.


Posted by Future PA Resident, a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2006 at 6:51 pm

I must commend David on coming up with ideas in response to the citizens' overall dissatisfaction with the current library system. Even though they may get shot down one-by-one. Better to throw around ideas than just complain.

So, when is the next opportunity for PA residents to put something up for a vote? Nov 2008?

FPAR


Posted by MovieLover2, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2006 at 1:03 pm

I find the outsourcing ideas here and in the DVD discussion disturbing. Should we outsource all none essential services? Or how about all city services - just have an administrator or two to pay the bills? What level of service will you get that way?

Question, David, have you always lived here or are you new to the community? I ask to know your level of dedication to the people of Palo Alto and a knowledge of the services they require. I myself am fairly new here, and if you don't wish to answer that is ok too.


Posted by David, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2006 at 3:23 pm

RadioLover2 asks: "Question, David, have you always lived here or are you new to the community? I ask to know your level of dedication to the people of Palo Alto and a knowledge of the services they require."

I have lived in Palo Alto since 1973, in the same house since 1984. Before that I lived in Los Trancos Woods (unincorporated San Mateo County), in Menlo Park and in East Palo Alto). Altogether I have lived in the area since 1964. I grew up in New York.

David


Posted by David, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2006 at 3:46 pm

RadioLover2 also wrote: "I find the outsourcing ideas here and in the DVD discussion disturbing. Should we outsource all none essential services? Or how about all city services - just have an administrator or two to pay the bills? What level of service will you get that way?"

If the same level of service can be provided for less money or a higher level of service can be provided for the same money then why not do it? I do not see this as an ideological question but simply one of common sense.

Let me give you some other examples:

1. Palo Alto, like many cities contracts out trash collection. Why? I assume that a decision was made at some point that it was more efficient to do it that way than to develop a city run service. In many cities in the country trash hauling is an open competitive enterprise. A resident goes to the phone book, looks under trash hauling and contracts with one of many haulers for service. The city is completely out of the loop. Is that better? Worse? Depends on circumstances. Where I grew up in New York, trash was a municipal service and god help anyone who suggested that it might be better to do it another way.

2. Sometimes different ways of doing things create an emotional disconnect. They just seem WRONG. I am as susceptible to this as anyone. When I moved here from NY I was astounded to learn that you had to pay for water! With time I came to realize that it not only made sense to charge for water but not charging for it was irrational, stupid and (from an environmental viewpoint) criminal.

But we are getting rather far off the topic. To answer directly... no, I do not see any reason why any city services should necessarily be immune from outsourcing if it can be done more economically or better.

David


Posted by Eric, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2006 at 1:03 am

The general concept is a good one. There are many ways this concept could evolve. For example creating an internet cafe in one of our libraries with access to Google books and even ask google if they would like to put our entire collection online (maybe even include us in their wifi network in mountainview). This kind of online information could prove to be cost effective and provide more value than traditional libraries. I also like the idea of reclaiming the coffee house from Starbucks. The cafe would have income, provide jobs for our teens, and help with the problem of isolation of our retired older folks and the young people.

This idea can be scaled up from a very humble experiment if it shows some promise. I also like the idea that many people own laptop computers so they could access the collection and we wont have to spend money on checking books in and out.

As to outsourcing--I feel that the library is more than information--also, outsourcing the library negates the opportunity to use civic functions as a way to engage community. However, everything should be on the table.


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