Guest Opinion: Adventures at the new Mitchell Park library


As a reader, writer and former English teacher, I'm more a buyer than a borrower of books. However, considering what I must have paid as my share of the monument to literature and the information age built in my Mitchell Park neighborhood, I decided to opt for my return of investment via an updated library card.

Andrew Carnegie would have been amazed at this 21st-century-efficient glass edifice honoring the written word -- it probably cost more than one of his steel mills. Of course, there were few cost overruns, change orders or union shops in his day; he could well afford the "free" in his gifts to American literacy.

Low-tech life also smoothed past experience. No bar codes or laser beams to complicate the two-week loan -- only an inked date stamped on a small card inside a book's front cover. Overdue fines were levied by a grim librarian, enforcer of the rules, regs and the quasi-religious library experience.

Times have changed. Palo Alto library patrons enjoy high-tech amenities in the luxury of a modern launch pad to the information age. The wide, inviting staircase led me aloft to scour the fiction shelves. Fabulous features on both floors carry on our city's love affair with lit-at-all-levels and connect users to the wonders of the entire world -- all in cozy comfort. Want to meet, read, browse, search, research and more? Options abound. Also, the staff's "helping hands" show, tell, instruct and explain. As my mother would have said, "A place for everything and everything in its place!"

After I chose a few books, a librarian activated my card and checked me out with electronic efficiency. The library and I had both come of age.

A few weeks later, I retraced my steps anticipating a state-of-the-art book return. Surprised that there was no drive-through drop-off, I parked on the skinny strip near the entrance, ducked across the two lanes of steady traffic and planned to enjoy my second Sunday-in-the-park-with-Mitchell Library.

In Palo Alto, I expect the unexpected -- but not a dark, closed library the day before the MLK holiday, and a Sunday, the one day I'd thought was the open sesame among varying weekly options. Disappointed, I could only leave my books and head home.

I pressed the green button at one of the two electronic return slots, ready to quickly slide in the book, bar-code up as a sign instructed, and ... nothing, not even a hopeful mechanical whirr. But didn't green signal "go" or "enter" or "open" throughout the known world? Yet the small steel door remained shut, like a maddening, out-of-order vending machine but without anything to rattle, tilt or shake.

I clutched my book and took a giant side-step to the twin two-button shelf next to the first stuck slot. I again pushed its green and beckoning disk. No luck -- no anything for either opening at the now non-automatic returns.

I looked around at the few souls sadly circling the area; their library foray also DOA. No help there. As my frustration and blood pressure started climbing, I spied a large, pull-the-handle-down-toss-in-the-book bin at the edge of the building. Low tech beckoned, the old fashioned, easy access return I'd relied on forever.

Already there was a teen-aged girl gamely shoving and wiggling a book into its... . Ahhh, I just glimpsed the bin's crammed-to-the-top maw. Sisters, no matter our age difference, we bonded instantly over the insane intricacies of late-stage electronics; we wordlessly shared the same resolve, to do battle with this mega-million-dollar dis-function-construction. We pushed together, shoved harder; still jammed. No room in the bin, nor anyone inside to breech the dammed collection.

And then, as with many happy endings, a Good Samaritan appeared -- an older, stronger, corduroy-clad action hero who came to the rescue. He flexed his fingers like a safe cracker, raised his arms with the flourish of a symphony conductor, then lunged forward to snake his left arm deep into a hidden space. He deftly managed to dislodge the frozen stack from beneath. As some books at the top shifted and slid over several squished volumes, his right hand nudged the girl's return into a suddenly empty crevice that even left room to lower the door.

As she smiled her thanks and they turned to go, I brazenly barred his path. I held out my returns with begging eyes and an appreciative bow. I watched, fingers crossed, while our neighborhood knight performed a second act and squeaked my books into the once again closely choked bin.

I will frequent this treasury of tomes -- warts and all -- that I helped finance. However, I'm reminded of the old adage of a stitch in time that saves ... what? Perhaps many an unforeseen glitch, like a non-drive-through book return, the awkward entrance road and an occasional mechanical meltdown. Not a complaint, merely a personal take on the few dropped stitches in the fancy fabric of the shiny new and mostly marvelous Mitchell Park Library.

Evie Preston is a longtime Palo Alto resident and former teacher. Now retired, she's returned to her first love, writing, as a columnist for Active Over 50 magazine.

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19 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 19, 2015 at 11:39 am

This is a well-written article. To it, about the interior, I'll add it is noisy. It is over the top noisy. The noise is not limited to children, like those dropped off by parents to play on the computers - upstairs and downstairs - as a free day care service, but adults that are on telephone calls, and adults coming and going with little ones to programs, each are a large part of the noise problem.

Every adult we know that uses a library for the quiet and to concentrate, says the same thing. One friend called the new Mitchell Park Library a "Community Center". He's right.

27 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2015 at 11:45 am

The lack of a drive by book drop is an ongoing problem. I usually bike to the library, but there are times I want to drop off my books while I'm doing errands with the car. Parking is a real issue and I simply don't understand WHY there cannot be a drive by book drop.

I've had library staff tell me that emptying the drive by book drop is time consuming and they don't want to go out in the rain (really?!?). But that just doesn't cut it. The library is there to serve the community and the library powers that be need to look at how to do that efficiently.

16 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

I think that it would be nice to have book drop-off points at other locations around town. Wouldn't it be great to have a book drop-off at Town & Country, Safeway (on Middlefield), University Ave., California Ave., etc...?

I know that it would be an added cost (to have a worker pick them up everyday), but I think that it would be worth it. It might actually increase library usage.

17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Mitchell Park library is a bit of a misnomer.

I agree that a book drop would help, so would 5 minute parking as I always have my books on hold ready to pick up and am never there more than 5 minutes. The parking lot is confusing in its directions and labels on spots are not clear. It is also used as a short cut by cars and is a bike path for schools and the park, which makes it a potential dangerzone. I also suspect Little League parking occurs.

As for the noise, I can't say, but I have heard that those who wish to find a quiet place to study rather than their homes, are finding that libraries are no longer quiet zones. Many adults who are taking online classes, etc. would like to use the library to study and it does not suit their needs.

9 people like this
Posted by Carrie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm

To bad some of these items were not in the plans when they were drawn up.
What an oversight!!

14 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Palo Alto Library should reconsider its policy of closing on the Sunday as well as the Monday of three day holidays. Mitchell Park is usually busy and probably will b well used on Sunday.

Also, the automatic book return system looks like system which will require constant maintenance.

Since the opening of the Magic Bridge Playground, there is never parking in the Mitchell Park side of the lot. There are days when there isn't even any bike parking left at Mitchell Park Library. So maybe a drive-through book drop should be added to reduce the number of vehicles which just park in the pedestrian drop off area in front.

9 people like this
Posted by Air
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I wish it was possible to open a window.

21 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Mountain View Library is modern and has the same issues - noise from the bottom floor flows upwards because of the open ledge.

Agree with others, there is definitely a library parking shortage due to the Magical Bridge Playground. There is also a shortage at Rinconada due to sharing the parking with the Palo Alto Art Center. Both branches definitely need drop-off boxes due to the lack of parking. For now, I drop off my books at the Childrens Library because it's easier. Agree a 5-minute parking space would be nice too, but question if it would ever be available due to lack of enforcement.

I was pleased to read that the City Manager, James Keene, will have the closing hours extended to 9:00 Web Link Closing at 10:00 would be even better since it's an intellectual city with college-prep schools.

22 people like this
Posted by Not an oversight
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2015 at 8:02 pm

>Too bad some of these items were not in the plans when they were drawn up.
What an oversight!
It is not an oversight. As I recall in the public meetings held with Group4 architects, people did bring up driveby dropoff sites like at Main, but the staff said it was hard work to bring in the books - something to that effect. The absence of any convenient way to return books was part of the plan. Go figure.

Even a portable cart at an entrance could work so we wouldn't need to park. Two people, if necessary, could roll it inside.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2015 at 8:13 pm

I never use the complicated check in return bin, much too complicated and didn't work first time so now never bother. Just dump them in the returns bin that is right beside it. If enough people do that, then they will soon get the message.

18 people like this
Posted by Library volunteers could empty drive by drop off boxes at no cost to libraries
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2015 at 8:32 pm


Re: "I've had library staff tell me that emptying the drive by book drop is time consuming and they don't want to go out in the rain (really?!?). But that just doesn't cut it."

Totally agree.

In the public library in San Mateo County where I volunteer, many basic library functions (e.g., shelving, checking in certain materials manually, mending materials, manually sorting through 5-10 boxes of returned materials, special projects, and more) are performed daily by unpaid volunteers.

Most (if not all) local public libraries have had drop off boxes for years until the last two or so years. I realize that library budgets are often cut due to other city and county priorities and to declining tax revenues, but have drop off boxes suddenly become budget busters?

A drive by book drop would be a relatively small one-time fixed cost for a public library. Volunteers could empty the book drops at no cost to a library.

Forcing me to park and walk up to a library's entrance (where returns machines are usually located) to return materials does not make me more likely to use the library more than I otherwise would; rather, the inconvenience just annoys me.

I think there is no excuse for any public library not to have a drive by book drop.

17 people like this
Posted by lindaloo
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 21, 2015 at 11:58 am

Late at night a drive by drop box is the way to go. I used to stop off at the library on Newell around 11pm after attending a play at Lucie Stern -- so my items would arrive before the stroke of midnight, i.e. by the due date. It could be dark, cold and rainy (and yes, a bit scary because of the transient denizens of the area), yet it sure worked for me. I miss it.

13 people like this
Posted by Underwhelmed
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 22, 2015 at 10:42 am

The library is so lovely on the outside but I have to say I've started going to the Mountain View library instead.

I use MPark Library primarily with children and the children's section is so crowded with stuff-- cushions, toys, lounge chairs, etc. that I find it claustrophobic. And though I've been there several times I've NEVER seen a librarian there. The book shelves are surprisingly empty. And the bathrooms are dark, smelly, and totally un kid-friendly. Sinks and potties too high, light switches and doors unworkable for small people.

I find the whole library surprisingly dark and claustrophobic inside, and with the parking and book return issues that others have mentioned, I'm less enthusiastic than I hoped and expected to be.

5 people like this
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2015 at 10:52 am

I have paid several visits to Mitchell Park Library and have always enjoyed the bustle and the "noise." It's great to see children & teenagers so at home in a big library.

The article did not mention the presence of a used-book store, managed by Friends of the Palo Alto Library (FOPAL). As a FOPAL volunteer, I'm one of the people who selects books in fine condition to be offered on the shelves at Mitchell Park. The store is on the left as you enter the library, and we welcome customers to purchase (on the honor system) paperbacks for $1 and hardbacks for $2.

The article also omitted mention of Ada's Cafe, across from the front door of the library. Ada's provides delicious baked items along with espresso and tea. They serve tasty lunch items, sandwiches, soups, and salads. There is outdoor seating in the nice weather we've been having. This cafe is owned & operated by local people. The name Ada actually stands for Americans with Disabilities Act, and the cafe chooses to hire people who qualify for ADA protections. It's a warm, cheerful, friendly place to stop for a snack or meal.

10 people like this
Posted by jean struthers
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 22, 2015 at 11:18 am

Our county library system has an automated system 24, 7 and will accept books night and day. Each book has a bar code and a chip, therefore the machine actually sorts the books as they come in. Palo alto needs to come onboard with a similar system.

9 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 22, 2015 at 11:54 am

The parking is really bad at Mitchell Park because there are so many slots that say "permit parking only". Also round the corner there are ten slots taken out and painted red with "no parking signs" because the gardeners want that area to put leaves in the fall otherwise that whole red curbed area is empty.

As a friend of mine suggested that in the fall when the gardeners want the space they should put out cones, otherwise the area behind the Little League field now painted red should be re-drawn to accommodate 10 more parking spaces. Also there are many empty handicapped spaces. As a result on busy weekends vehicles must park on Mayview and East Meadow.

21 people like this
Posted by Los Altos will soon be free again
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Happily, Los Altos library will soon be free again to Palo Alto residents. Starting July 1, they will end their non-resident fee and we can go back to using their excellent library, with excellent collection, drop-off parking spaces, and a separate children's wing. Thank you Los Altos!

4 people like this
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm

What's the point of being a Palo Alto Resident if you don't have something to complain about?

11 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Yep, the noise at Mitchell Park is truly annoying. Given that librarians no longer have to do check-outs, maybe a few of them could tell people not to have phone conversations in the library? Make it clear that kids are suppose to do things *quietly* in a library. I thought part of the reason for having the rest of the center at Mitchell Park was so people would quit using the library as a play space.

Meanwhile, Rinconada has reopened and is a pleasant space, but the collection is minimal. Get some books in there, for pete's sake. Fiction, in particular, has been cut to the quick. I'm tired of trekking down to the noisy Mitchell Park branch to get books.

4 people like this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2015 at 4:22 pm

I love the Mitchell Park library. Guess I don't need dead silence to peruse the stacks. The brightly colored teen and small children's sections are so pleasant. My only complaint is, as others have noted, parking. I wasn't aware that it was the Magical Bridge playground that was contributing to overcrowding. They really DO have a few too many spots that can't be used for regular vehicles; i.e., electric vehicle charging spots, carpooling. Who carpools to the library? I don't miss bins to drop books as much because I'm such a book junkie that, if I actually approach a library, I have to go in and see what new books are being displayed. I also love the Friends sale room and have bought about 6 books there already.

I wasn't aware that the automated book return spots don't work when the library isn't open. I guess I've only returned books when it IS open.

6 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Robinson
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 22, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Ah me! There's always something to complain about!
We have a magnificent library with state of the art facilities that usual work perfectly yet one glitch and out come the whingers!
As for closed days, just check the library website before you set off, all the information on hours is there. And did you know you can return your books to any of our three Libraries?

Traffic and parking problems are part of urban life! It means the people of our lovely city are active, involved and using the library and all it has to offer. As for noise, there is always a quiet corner to be found, it's a huge library with lots of nooks for quiet reading. And it's easy to reserve one of the sound proof meeting rooms on the second floor.

I am reminded of people who buy a home right next to a school then complain about the noise of happy children.
How sad it would be to visit our beautiful public buildings and find them silent and empty! Now, that would be something to complain about!

Do visit Ada's on your next trip to Mitchell Park Library. The food is extremely good and well prepared and you will never find a more dedicated or friendly staff.

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 22, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Allocating a huge number of parking spots to charging stations, hybrid car pools, regular car pools, the handicapped is not a fact of life but a refusal to face reality about who's using the library.

When Mitchell Park first opened and people wrote to the head librarian to complain, she promised something would be done to rectify the parking problem as well as having Public Works post a sign saying 5-minute parking in front so people could run in and get their reserve books and/or drop off books.

We're still waiting.

The same parking imbalance exists at the Rinconada Library. Rarely do you see any cars except for the same 2 constantly recharging in the front lot near where the main entrance used to be because everything's for car pools. recharging, the handicapped, etc. Promises were made to fix it.

Again, we're still waiting.

As for the dropoff boxes, when I wrote to complain about their absence, the librarian told me to go use the old-fashioned dropoff box that still exists near the children's library. I periodically use it but don't know if they lock it in the evening.

7 people like this
Posted by Giving Up
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:38 am

I am going to have to give up on the Mitchell Park Library. The noise is just too irritating--something about the interior of the building seems to magnify it.

I don't mind parking far away, but for my tiny daughter the walk is too much, and she hates the confinement of a stroller.

The system for returning the books is ridiculous. I'll just go back to buying e-books.

Incidentally, Ada's Cafe has great sandwiches, but the counter personnel is rather snarky!

6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm

The temporary Mitchell Park Lib at Cubberley had a large outdoor metal book drop. How about bolting it to the sidewalk on the Middlefield side of the parking lot and then asking volunteers to empty it everyday? Minimal cost to the Library.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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