Ten years ago, all I wanted was to walk into the library, pick out a book, then sit down and read it. But there was a waiting list for popular classics like Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," and there were just a few dilapidated chairs that were never available. Another mom at Palo Verde suggested I join the Palo Alto Library Foundation board, and I readily agreed.
Nine years ago, we presented a petition with more than 1,000 paper and electronic signatures to then-Mayor Judy Kleinberg, asking that Mitchell Park Library be rebuilt. She accepted it gracefully but suggested that my elementary school kids might be in college before Palo Alto solved its library problem.
Eight years ago, a team of six met every week, and a team of 20 met every month, to execute a campaign that could win. And if we lost, it wasn't going to be because we hadn't sent mailers, installed lawn signs, walked precincts and presented at neighborhood events.
Today, we have five vibrant libraries filled with books, DVDs, computers, conference rooms and lots of people who have come to read, learn and work together. And I am happy to report that both my kids are high school students at Gunn, so we beat the mayor's prediction!
During this decade, I have been deeply grateful for those who believed in this effort and repeatedly gave their time and money to make it happen. Dozens of Palo Altans worked on the team, and thousands of people signed petitions, endorsed the campaign and displayed lawn signs. And 21,894 people voted yes on Measure N in 2008.
But the $76 million bond measure paid only for the design and construction of the buildings, not for the $4 million of furniture, books, ebooks and computers we needed to bring the libraries into the 21st century. So, more than a thousand people made private donations to the Palo Alto Library Foundation to fund modern furniture, thousands of books, and dozens of laptops and desktops.
Years ago, a friend mentioned to me that the construction of the Mitchell Park Library coincided with the time that my kids were attending JLS Middle School so they wouldn't get to use it. I replied that I wasn't doing this for my kids. I was doing it for everyone's kids.
Today, I am incredibly happy to see families walking in and out of these libraries, enjoying the great facilities and speaking a wide range of languages. On weekends, I admit that I walk our dog past the library just so I can see how busy it is!
One under-appreciated part of this project is the new community center at Mitchell Park. It has already hosted city meetings, school district events and private parties; it will be the site of many classes, quinceañeras and bar mitzvah parties, and birthday and graduation celebrations.
Recently, one of our first volunteers was at Mitchell Park and ran into an old friend from when their kids were in preschool. After exclaiming over the wonderful building, the friend was eager to remind the volunteer that she had signed the petition in 2007 and felt that she had played a part in making this happen. She is absolutely right! So much of the focus has been on the leaders of this effort, but I believe our success was determined by the breadth of our followers.
I would be remiss not to take this moment to mention that there were disappointments along the way, including the occasional issue with the City Council, a few potential donors who declined to give anything and some truly hateful anonymous comments online. What worked well in these situations was to set aside our personal feelings and refocus on the greater good and long-term goal. We are all proud of being relentlessly positive, and it paid off.
Last week I dropped by Mitchell Park after work to pick up a book, then walked up the stairs and found a chair by the window. I read the first chapter of the book before heading home.
That's really all I ever wanted and now it's available to everyone.
Alison Cormack has lived in Palo Alto since 1997. She chaired the Better Libraries for Palo Alto bond campaign in 2008, served as the president of the Palo Alto Library Foundation from 2007 to 2010, and received the Tall Tree award in 2012.