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Why Can't Palo Alto Fix Its Libraries?

Original post made by Concerned Resident, Midtown, on Jun 2, 2006

It seems that whenever anybody tries to do anything positive about the library system, the community instantly splinters and the council washes its hands of the issue.

Why can't we come together for this?

Comments (12)

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Posted by Noah
a resident of University South
on Jun 3, 2006 at 8:16 am

Hi "Concerned Resident",
Care to mention what you want to "fix" about the library system? I'm a 2yr+ PA resident married to a 12yr PA resident and we both love the library system. For her 12 years and my 2, we have lived in North PA on both sides of University Ave.

Ever since living here, I've read some pretty biased reporting in the PA daily news about how broken the libraries are and how the branches must all be closed. Then the 3rd party survey came out and guess what? PA residents like their libraries with the vast majority being satisfied and very few wanting to close the branches.

Even though I live in University South, I just completed a semester of studying in the evenings and spent a lot of time at the PA Main library (Newell). Yes, it could use some fresh paint and possibly roof shingles. On the other hand, there was always a nice table and chair waiting for me. There are many *free* internet computers, including free to check-out laptops! In the two sections I've looked in the past few months, graduate-level math and home-improvement, I found 100s of books on-topic and of high quality. In the past, I was looking for a book on a remote topic of computer science and the PA library staff ordered one, notifying by email when the new purchase arrived.

Now, aside from the obvious tug-of-war between those living adjacent to the *two* so-called "main" branches, and those living closer to branch libraries, what do you see that needs to be done about the system? Here are my suggestions:

* Make the branch libraries open longer, even if less-well staffed. Currently, the downtown branch is open only 5 days a week, and barely open outside of typical work-day hours of 9-5. It is almost impossible for a working adult to use that branch other than on Thursdays (open until 7) or Saturdays.

* Consider "skelaton crew" hours at any/all branches to extend hours while minimizing costs. I've noticed an incredible level of service at the main branch. There are usually two-three people at the main desk, and often one-two floating around helping with the internet etc. While these are *great* services, and if we have extra money let's fund them, there are many regular patrons of the library who just need (a) a place to study or (b) access to the library's excellent services. Note: I really like the staff across the library system and this is not a jab, simply an idea on how we might do more without adding cost.


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Posted by jack
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2006 at 11:29 am

I AGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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Posted by A Concerned Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2006 at 12:49 pm

What do I want to fix?

Honestly, I would love at least one library in Palo Alto that has the resources and services of Mountain View or Redwood City.

It seems that my fellow Palo Altans want everything BUT a full-service library - to the point that they ran the library director out of town.

The argument of having a neighborhood library is persuasive, but does little good if I have to drive to another community to employ the full range of services a library can offer - and that includes meeting rooms, etc.


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Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2006 at 1:19 pm

There are two issues in our libraries - one is the absolute job they do to serve their customers, the other is how efficiently they do it. On both measures, compared to Mountain View, Redwood City, and Menlo Park, Palo Alto's libraries could use improvement.

Palo Alto's branch system imposes a burden of extra staff overhead, duplicated core collections, higher utility costs, and higher capital costs. Budget constraints mean that Palo Alto's branches are dilapidated, open relatively few hours, and have small collections.

But Palo Alto's library budget is actually greater per capita than neighboring cities - it's 14th of 174 in the state, more than three times the average. Neighboring cities - with fewer branches - have better collections and offer better services, like (notably) literacy. Palo Alto staff serve fewer patrons per FTE. Palo Alto spends 50% more per circulated item than Menlo Park ($4.03 vs $2.65).

There are choices about where our tax dollars go. Do we want many small, limited branches? Multiple subscriptions to every popular magazine and newspaper? Does we need twice as many Internet terminals per capita than neighboring towns? More staff than Mountain View? Sure, the downtown branch is a short walk from my home - but as a taxpayer it seems crazy to me to keep it open. I'd much rather have an improved main library.


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Posted by Noah
a resident of University South
on Jun 3, 2006 at 8:12 pm

Thanks for replying "Concerned" and others...

1st - for "Concerned Resident" - you mention you want a "full" service library. What do you mean - can you highlite at least two real services the main library currently lacks? I was amazed at how "full" the service there is. It's downright extravagant my my measure. Free DVD rental, wireless laptop usage, free printing, a well lit place to study, free books, helpful staff, etc...

2nd - John - I probably agree with you that the overall "efficiency" of our library could be improved. However, I disagree that the main issue is the branch system. You say the only issues are absolute service and how efficiently it is delivered. Maybe the only service you are interested in is a single main library, but having a local branch *is* a service my budding family enjoys and uses regularly. You also mention many items that I don't use: magazines, newspapers, and internet terminals, but I respect that other PA residents enjoy and regularly use those services. Aside from lowering taxes, can you reference anything actually missing from the main library?

Cheers - glad to have a reasoned discussion...


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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 3, 2006 at 10:30 pm

Noah:
"* Make the branch libraries open longer, even if less-well staffed.
------------
Staff at the libraries is already razor thin. Sure, you may see three librarians behind the desk at Main, but there are many things those librarians have to do behind that desk, and in other parts of the library. For every person that wants to see things like Internet help go away, there is another that wants it to stay, and so on.


A Concerned Resident;
"The argument of having a neighborhood library is persuasive, but does little good if I have to drive to another community to employ the full range of services a library can offer - and that includes meeting rooms, etc."
-------------------
This is a great point. There is a proposal on the board to increase the size of Mitchell Park Library in a way that could include meeting rooms and meet most of the "full service" requirements that you seek.



John:
"There are choices about where our tax dollars go. Do we want many small, limited branches? Multiple subscriptions to every popular magazine and newspaper? Does we need twice as many Internet terminals per capita than neighboring towns? More staff than Mountain View? Sure, the downtown branch is a short walk from my home - but as a taxpayer it seems crazy to me to keep it open. I'd much rather have an improved main library."
_______________________
Again, most Palo Altans want the branch system to remain intact. There is ia proposal that has been recently gained favor with our City Council; it makes the library more efficient in a way that it houses collections, and many other efficiencies. In spite of this, there are some voices in the community that are fighting these improvements. Kind of sad, isn't it?


We have a great branch library system. It supports the "walkable neighborhoods" goal of Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan. The recent survey showed that branches were very important to Palo Altans; we like our branches, and don't want to see them go away.

Has anyone on this board ever been to the Mitchell Park Library on a school day afternoon? If not, you should make the trip to see how insufficient and overcrowded that library is. How well served is South Palo Alto by the Mitchell Park Library, compared to North Palo Alto, with the other four branches, including Children's library? Something needs to be done.

What's ironic in all of this is that if the efficiencies in the current Library Advisory Commission Report are permitted to go through, the branches could operate a lot more efficiently. As for hour increases, that means - again - more staff time. There is an initiative at one branch library (College Terrace) that is experimenting with using volunteers to augment (not replace) staff. we should watch this for results.


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Posted by Gordon
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 5, 2006 at 3:03 pm

I'm curious how many Palo Altans have had the priviledge of visiting Redwood City's or Mountain View's main libraries. Wow.

While Palo Alto was resting on its dot-com laurels in the late '90s, our neighbors to the north and south were busy getting things done.

Now we have a library system stuck forever in the past and supposedly, that's what Palo Altans prefer.

Something is not right with this picture.


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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 5, 2006 at 10:58 pm

Gordon: "Now we have a library system stuck forever in the past and supposedly, that\'s what Palo Altans prefer." _____________________________ The Library has been a victim of neglect, relative to other institutional funding here. Palo Altans clearly want some improvement in their library; that was evident in the recent community survet sponsored by the Library Advisory Commission.


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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2006 at 1:24 pm

A strong community is an educated, and well-informed community. And to quote one public library (Princeton Public Library), they aim to "improve the quality of life and meet the informational, educational and cultural interests of the entire community."

We should really compare the main public library's services to our neighbor's new library services. See how we can improve and fund these necessary services, if we want to continue to remain competitive and attractive from a community services standpoint. Another prime example of a wonderful new public library revamp is the newly renovated Princeton Public Library, near to the Princeton University campus (Web Link ) This is another fine example of a full-service library!


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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 8, 2006 at 1:41 pm

Andrew:
"We should really compare the main public library's services to our neighbor's new library services. See how we can improve and fund these necessary services, if we want to continue to remain competitive and attractive from a community services standpoint. Another prime example of a wonderful new public library revamp is the newly renovated Princeton Public Library, near to the Princeton University campus (Web link ) This is another fine example of a full-service library!"
---------
A few things:

1) University libraries are far different - in terms of collection, funding, and use, than public libraries. They are two different 'animals', entirely.

2) A lot has already been done to review and incorporate improvements that have been made in adjoining municipal libraries. Also, there is much in the new recommendations - approved by our City Council - that was inspired by neighboring (and other) public library innovations.


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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2006 at 2:14 pm

Great to hear that new recommendations for our Palo Alto Public Library have been approved by the City Council based on an assessment of neighboring cities' libraries.

As for the Princeton Public Library, my comments and the recommended website refer to the Public Library for the City of Princeton, NJ, and not the university--It is distinctly separate from the Princeton University library. Please do take a look at their services. It is quite a fine example of a full-service city public library.


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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 8, 2006 at 3:11 pm

Andrew:
"Great to hear that new recommendations for our Palo Alto Public Library have been approved by the City Council based on an assessment of neighboring cities' libraries."
---------
I wasn't clear. The City Council received a document that included recommendations partially based on inputs received about how neighboring libraries serve their citizens. there were MANY other considerations in the plan that Council approved - based on inputs from the recent community survey, staff inputs, and considerable community input.

As for the Princeton Library, it looks like a great place!


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