Guest Opinion: Getting things done around here | April 30, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 30, 2010

Guest Opinion: Getting things done around here

by Alison Cormack

I have been asked, "What does it take to get something done in this city?"

In Palo Alto, as anywhere, there's a simple answer: It takes reasonable people willing to work for something, not against something. Reasonable people willing to set aside what they want to get what works for everyone. Reasonable people willing to ask others for three things — time, votes and money.

It was my privilege to serve as the chair of the library bond campaign that passed in 2008. It's worth remembering why that plan succeeded where two others had failed.

I think it's primarily because the plan itself was balanced. It fixed the 50-year-old buildings we have and use every day. I enjoyed the opportunity to be an advocate for getting something positive done when so much of what we read about is opposition to projects.

I left my personal preferences (for at least one large library) somewhere along the line in 2006 and supported the branch-based bond campaign because it's what works best for everyone. The one-or-many debate stalled progress on renewing our libraries for far too long.

I had a dedicated team of more than 100 people who gave their time to ask others for votes and money to run the campaign.

Where are we now? The city staff is working hard behind the scenes to get things done. The monthly stakeholder meetings are filled with detailed schedules of contracts for moving books, issuing bonds, getting myriad City Council approvals, informing library patrons of closing-for-construction ceremonies, choosing public art and finalizing color palettes for the interiors of the buildings.

It is heartening to see this steady progress and it will be exciting to see the construction fences go up and work begin this summer.

Three months from now, we will have closed two libraries, opened a temporary one, and started construction in two locations. The library has an electronic newsletter about the projects. You can sign up for it by clicking on "Book Lists for Every Taste," then "Custom Bookletters," then "Palo Alto Library Projects."

While you're there, sign up for some of the other interesting BookLetters. You can get periodic e-mails on the topic of your choice, whether it's business, teen novels or book club selections.

I have also been asked, "What needs to be done next?" Well, let's review the three things we needed to be successful: time, votes and money. We put in the time and we got the votes.

But the job of library renewal isn't done. Again, money is the key. The library bond that passed in 2008 cannot, by law, pay for anything except design and construction of the three library projects. All the things that make libraries work — computers, books, e-books, bookshelves, tables, chairs, download stations, check-out stations and conference equipment in the meeting rooms — still need to be paid for.

Due to budget cuts throughout the city, our community will need to provide the funds to launch our libraries into the 21st century.

I am confident that will happen. We at the Palo Alto Library Foundation have just embarked on a three-year, $6 million fundraising campaign. Our leadership circle is already filling up with generous donations and we'll be out asking for many more. The Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund recently awarded $50,000 to the Library Foundation for this campaign.

I'm delighted to announce that we have formed our Campaign Council, comprised of 20 well-respected residents who support our efforts.

But please remember that we're a group of volunteers, not professional fundraisers with a big budget for research or staff. So if we don't get in touch with you, feel free to contact us at or give online at

Together, we can get these projects done. Watch for a renovated Downtown Library in 2011, a new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center in 2012, and a renovated and expanded Main Library in 2013 — coming soon to a neighborhood near you!

Alison Cormack is president of the Palo Alto Library Foundation and chaired the successful Measure N library-bond campaign in 2008. She can be e-mailed at


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