The council's motion was intentionally vague, and left the Library Advisory Commission and city staff to hammer out details with a consultant in the coming months.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," commissioner John Stucky said immediately after the vote.
The council, with Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell absent, asked the commission to return on Sept. 11 with specifics. Freshman Councilman John Barton drafted the motion, along with Councilman Larry Klein.
"We need to find out how big this Mitchell Park Library will be," Barton said.
That library is typically the city's most popular, with more than 300,000 annual visitors cramming into a 9,500-square-foot, 50-year-old building.
Speakers Monday night called it "an embarrassment" and "an insult to this educated community."
Prior to the council's vote Monday night, the library commission presented a draft plan that proposed to transform Mitchell Park into a "full-service library" capable of providing an expanded collection of materials and an extensive range of services for every age.
No library in the city currently offers such comprehensive programs. There is also little-to-no room in any Palo Alto library for silent study, adult programs or meetings, which the library commission offered in its vision for Mitchell Park.
Even though the commission did not specify how large the new Mitchell Park branch would be, the scope of its plan had some critics already alleging it would be "huge."
"Please give us something smaller than what is being proposed, because we want to preserve the tranquil ambiance of Pearce Mitchell's beautiful park," Jean Wilcox, who lives near the library, requested Monday night.
Although the council's motion didn't expressly forbid such boldness, it made clear it was thinking less grand in general. The council moved away from other controversial and expensive proposals from the library commission's draft plan.
Council members shelved an idea to reduce the number of grades the Children's Library would serve. They also abandoned the commission's costly suggestion to increase the number of hours all five Palo Alto libraries are open.
The council also unmistakably stated it did not wish to reduce the services at the Main Library. The commission had suggested transforming that library into a research-focused branch, which some critics labeled "downgrading." The commission instead called it tailoring the library to a specific role.
The commission also suggested renaming the Main Library and the Downtown Library after the streets on which they're located. The council did not vote either way on that proposal.
The commission had also called for the building that would have housed the new Mitchell Park Library to replace both the library and the adjacent Mitchell Park Community Center. The council's vote was also silent on that issue.
In addition to stirring criticism among neighbors of libraries, the commission's draft plan also became controversial among some library supporters.
Two library commissioners, Genevieve Gerard and Paula Skokowski, wrote a dissenting memo to the council calling the draft plan "seriously flawed in that it does not respond to user input." They argued a recent city-funded survey showed residents had a preference for a multi-branch system rather than one with a full-service library along with branches.
The council has set aside the June 2008 ballot for any library-centered tax measures. Monday night, council members suggested there might be two separate ballot measure for library — a bond measure to pay for the Mitchell Park Library expansion, and a parcel tax or other similar measure for the service and collection improvements.
Without changes to address critics, former commission Tom Wyman expressed concerns a future ballot measure for the library would fail.
"It is not a good omen to see this kind of lukewarm support at public meetings," he said.
The commission's draft plan also had supporters. The board of the Palo Alto Library Foundation, which had previously been silent on political library issues, voted to endorse it.
The differing views among the library factions could threaten progress.
Councilwoman Dena Mossar said that unless the various library supporters found consensus, she would not vote in September to continue working on a new library proposal.
"I don't yet see signs that the community is willing to settle down and to work together and negotiate a compromise that they're all willing to get behind," she said.
This story contains 771 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.