The schools, parks, trees and recreational services this city provides are superb. Our libraries should offer the same high-quality experience. Libraries are the most fundamental and democratic of our city services, serving toddlers, seniors, English-language learners, teens, book-club members, people who work at home and anyone who walks in the door.
In fact, over 2,000 people use our libraries every day of the year because they offer learning for life.
Here's what's going on at our five libraries:
* Children's Library, which was too small and dilapidated, has been expanded and updated.
* The College Terrace branch, which has seismic problems and needs an overall uplift, is scheduled to be fixed in 2008-2009.
* The Downtown Library needs more public space and to be refreshed.
* Main Library has poor lighting and ventilation and there is no space for studying or for community programs or events. It needs to be renovated and should offer study rooms and a modest-sized space for public events.
* Mitchell Park branch has a third of the space it needs for the use it gets and half the number of books. The adjacent community center is shabby and poorly arranged. The most cost-effective solution is to build a new, combined library and community center with enough space for books, people and programs.
Here's the truth about the branch debate: That ship has sailed. The Council isn't going to close branches and even if it did that wouldn't free up nearly enough money to fix our two primary libraries, Main and Mitchell.
Proposals to have one large library have failed. Requests to guarantee the branches' existence in perpetuity have failed. So that leaves us with a balanced, reasonable approach: fix the five libraries we have and use every day.
In my role as president of the Palo Alto Library Foundation, I am pleased to see the community discussion shifting from how many to what kind of libraries we have. If you have not visited Children's Library to see what a library with enough space for books and people, plenty of light and decent restrooms feels like, stop by 1276 Harriet Ave.
If you have not visited Mitchell Park library at 3700 Middlefield Road, you cannot understand the challenge we face there by reading this or any other article.
More than 1,000 people per day use Mitchell Park Library — it has the highest circulation of any of our five branches. Yet it is less than 10,000 square feet and was built 50 years ago. The visitors shift over the day with seniors and pre-schoolers predominating in the morning, older children arriving after school and everyone there in the evening.
While you're there, stop by the community center to see the dilapidated, uninspiring environment used by so many of our young people.
Then imagine the possibilities of a courtyard arrangement around the big oak tree. The new community center will be able to host weddings, plays, senior lunches, classes and civic functions just as the facility at Lucie Stern Community Center offers a wide variety of spaces in northern Palo Alto.
I get lots of questions about the libraries and current plans. As I try to answer them, I find it helps to know what people care about.
For the history buff, our library system is a centenarian. It was established with the help of major benefactors such as Andrew Carnegie and "Aunt Lucie" Stern and found community support when a bond passed to build our two primary libraries, Main and Mitchell, which both opened in 1958 — the year after Fairchild Semiconductor was founded.
Think about what has changed in the world and our city in those 50 years and realize that our libraries have stayed virtually the same.
Are you a numbers person? Our circulation in Palo Alto libraries has increased 45 percent since 2000. Libraries are NOT going away because of the Internet. Books and information are still inextricably linked and in high demand, right here in Silicon Valley.
Do you care about the environment? The new construction at Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is planned to be certified at the LEED silver level, meaning it will incorporate many "green" features such as porous concrete paving, a vegetated roof, photovoltaics and a ground-source heat pump in a building designed to harvest daylight and conserve water.
For those interested in the local political process, the current expansion/refurbishing plan is an issue we can all support. It's been studied by the Library Advisory Commission (LAC), worked on diligently by staff and architects, reinforced by the primary finding of the city auditor's report, and applauded by the Architecture Review Board. And, it is supported by all three library groups: the LAC, the Palo Alto Library Foundation and the Friends of the Palo Alto Library.
We are at a crossroads with a golden opportunity to achieve improvements across the city and across the generations. I am mindful that the school district, the Art Center, the Junior Museum & Zoo and other local entities face similar facilities issues. Much of Palo Alto was built in the 1950s and many of our civic buildings are long past their useful lives.
We must find the means to repair and replace these buildings that are the foundation of our high quality of life, as we have so successfully done with Children's Library and, a decade earlier, the Lucie Stern Community Center.
We are fortunate to live in a community that has the resources to make these necessary upgrades. I firmly believe that now is the time to get our libraries right for the next generation. I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.
This story contains 980 words.
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