The seven-member commission was scheduled to review the Friends' suggestions last night and begin brainstorming their own recommendations to the City Council. The commission is aiming to have a draft to the council in mid-May, with a final report presented in late June.
The Friends are one of many groups from which the commission is taking input — public meetings are also scheduled in early May at the city's libraries — but the nonprofit is an influential group because it raises money for the city's libraries through its popular monthly book sales.
In 2005, the Friends raised more than $200,000 for the libraries.
The Friends has also frequently clashed with Library Director Paula Simpson over the direction of the city's library system, especially when Simpson recommended closing two of the city's branches in 2004. Simpson argued Palo Alto is running five library branches with adequate funding for only two-and-a-half.
Although the current look at the library system was kick-started by Simpson's controversial proposal, the library commission is probably not going to recommend closing branches. A recent survey showed residents had a clear preference for the branch system.
"Palo Alto has repeatedly expressed its preference for walkable neighborhoods and branch libraries," the Friends letter noted.
The Mitchell Park branch was the focus of two of the group's nine suggestions. The 10,000-square-foot facility is located near numerous schools and had more than 300,000 visitors in the last fiscal year, the most of any of the city's five libraries.
"The crunch is just unbelievable on a weekday afternoons," Friends president Jeff Levinsky said. The building is 48 years old, its systems are outdated and it lacks a quiet study area.
In 2002, the city failed to pass a $49.1 million bond that would have expanded the library, the Mitchell Park Community Center and the Children's Library.
"Thought should be given to developing" a new bond measure specifically for the Mitchell Park library, according to the Friends' letter. That idea "appears to have significant community support" but "will require developing public support and involve a great deal of careful planning, well-reasoned and persuasive arguments and concerted effort."
More immediately, the Friends also floated the idea of purchasing new computers and putting them in the adjacent teen center, within the Mitchell Park Community Center, "to help alleviate noise and confusion."
"We recognize that this would involve some degree of supervision and may involve issue of 'turf' but may be worth exploring," the letter said.
The Friends also suggested the city join Link+, a union of resource-sharing libraries in California and Nevada. According to a recent city survey, residents' greatest demand for the library system is an expanded collection — 85 percent said they wanted more books, media and other materials.
Joining Link+ would give the city access to a collection of materials that include university collections, "which we think would be excellent for Palo Alto," Levinsky said. According to a separate memo from the Friends, the combined collection of the participating libraries exceeds 4 million titles.
Increasing the number of hours open was another preference residents expressed in the survey. To do so, the Friends recommends using volunteers, finding efficiencies through an audit of the department or raising new revenue through a parcel tax to expand hours, Levinsky said.
"Those are three ways, but there might be some combination."
Other recommendations from the Friends include subscribing to more online databases, partnering with the schools and improving the attractiveness of the city facilities.
Library commissioner Lenore Jones said the Friends' recommendations were "all pretty straightforward and not surprising."
The suggestion for a new bond measure is definitely worth exploring, she added, but the commission is considering recommending a parcel tax instead. That would allow the city to have additional revenue to improve the city's facilities while also adding additional hours and expanding the collection.
The commission is also considering recommending Link+, although initial reports from other libraries indicate there might not be much benefit from it, Jones said. The commission is also considering joining the Peninsula Library System or other library consortiums.
"It's not a no-brainer," Jones said about Link+.
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