Guest Opinion: Palo Alto's long debate on library branches is history -- let's move ahead
Original post made
on Jan 11, 2008
Welcome to 2008, the year that Palo Alto finally gets its libraries right. I am delighted that the final library proposal will soon come before the City Council.
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posted Wednesday, January 9, 2008, 12:00 AM
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Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2008 at 6:39 pm
I'm never embarrassed making an honest error. I am embarrassed by the bad condition that Palo Alto's libraries are in, relative to the passion we have for libraries here, and the very high use that our library has. (you'll note that Mt. View has about 10,000 more citizens, but we use our library just as much - we're proud of stuff like that.)
Embarrassed? I'm *proud* to be a part of helping - just in this little forum - our citizens understand what's great about our library system, and why it need renewal, and what that renewal means to them, our schools, our children, our seniors, our incoming population of commuters (heavy users of our libraries), and so on.
btw, This is where I obtained those numbers; it appears that there is a disconnect between Mt. View's Library Foundation, and the library.
the references were sent to me by a friend in Mt. View who says she envies our branch library system - go figure.
Incidentally, The Mt. View Library (a good library) is open 57 hours per week, at one location.
The Palo Alto library is open 177 hours throughout its branches, not including the 48 hours that Children's is open.
That's a huge point for accessibility.
The cost difference between Mt. View and PA is primarily in staffing, but I'll give you that one point, among many others that remain on the side of those who have good rationale for fixing our library, and maintaining our branch system.
Palo Alto wants to create a pleasing experience for its patrons, as Louise noted the following about the Mt. View Library: "And when I checked the reference section, Mountain View really came up short in areas I could easily compare to the resources in Palo Alto's Main library -- consumer info, world history, foreign language dictionaries. Worst of all, there was no one to help you should you have any questions."
Palo Alto is a special community; we try to differentiate ourselves with more and better community services, better schools, better opportunity for business, etc. etc. That's why we're repairing our library infrastructure, which has been the victim of embarrassing neglect.
Even more incidentally, in case you haven't read the latest poll (which indicate you're somewhat out of step with most Palo Altans), here it is:
Palo Altans CLEARLY want their branches, as repeated by Ms. Cormack, in her excellent GO.
Our Library distinguishes itself by serving patrons in ways that permit convenience, walkability, easy access for the disabled and seniors - including many other benefits.
So far your only point is pure comparative cost, based on incomplete data that *only* looks at *cost*.
What about benefits? Yours is very incomplete financial diligence, as every public or private enterprise spreadsheet I've ever seen does show the benefit side of the ledger.
Frankly, that's something to be embarrassed about, because it doesn't involve unit errors; rather, it indicates a mind set that screams "poverty" when approaching the necessities of life.
This community didn't become the stellar community that it is by thinking poor. We tackle problems; we lead; we're a magnet community - and we're darned proud of that - for our, and our children's sake.
That said, Palo Alto's library multiplier - in terms of community payback for library investment - for Library services is at least TWICE Mt. View's, and probably more, based on the 23 municipal studies on public library ROI, stated above.
Look at the studies, and please do your own study of public library payback to refute the findings of these 23 studies - I'm open to admitting error. I assume you are, as well.
Another thing, no Palo Altan should get caught in the trap of deferring to a poverty striken bean countering philosphy when it comes to vital public services like libraries, public safety, etc. etc.
Why? Because so MUCH of community service, like a public library, is *qualitative* in nature.
Being able to walk to a library with your child on a Saturday morning for a story time reading; being able to saunter over, as a retired senior citizen - on a Tuesday afternoon, to read a newspaper and mingle with neighbors; being able to access library services in almost any part of town, as one runs errands - instead of having to make special trips (lower carbon footprint, anyone? - that's worth $$$); enabling the many workers who drive to our city (we have 10's of thousands; to use a library that's close to their place of employment (more lowering of carbon footprint, btw); the ability to walk to community evenings in the evening, at one's neighborhood library; the ability of one's children to gather and use the library close to school, and home; the ability of branch library staff to help kids get on with the "homework help" system - thereby leveraging our citizen's investment in their schools (not to mention the PA Library's fantastic Teen Library program; how about the availability of small, local art and other exhibits created by local artists, and others;
Try putting a price tag on the above; you can - but Palo Altans won't buy your argument. Why? Because they want to invest in library services that add up to more than the sum of the little parts that some want to blow out of proportion - and to what end? To destroy a library system that is much loved and WANTED by most Palo Altans?
I think you need to reconfigure your demographic research; go talk to the majority of Palo Altans - the 62+% who woted for the last bond. It's going to be higher this time, by at least 7% points.
In all, Palo Alto's library delivers a better library *experience* than most others - especially when considers the above factors. Once we get Mitchell rebuilt, and the rest of the system up to par, we will have a library system that's paying back a positive ROI to the community (for tax dollars expended)