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Palo Alto Libraries vs. Borders

Original post made by r, Crescent Park, on Sep 25, 2006

A few months ago my mother visited for an extended period and asked about going to the local library. I flippantly replied "yeah, it's called Borders - just up the road".

Now, this was only partly in jest, I have spent many enjoyable afternoons at Borders with my daughter reading her all the books she wanted before she chose one to take home. So it has been my daughter's library "sort of".
Last weekend I decided that now my daughter is 3 and starting to read on her own, she should really begin to use a proper library. I was sure she would love going there with my visions filled of the many hours I had spent at a local library as a child. Open spaces with cushions in which to lie down reading piles of books or curled up in a comfy chair with my head down and my parents having to "find" me. So, with high hopes, we set of the visit the main library on Saturday afternoon.

Ha! I am sooo glad I did tell my mother to go to Borders. The Palo Alto main library is an embarrassment. I couldn't finish reading the books to my daughter due to the smell of vomit wafting off them. Let alone finding books - you would have thought they would at least be organized by age. And where are the updated children's books?
Trying to squash into bamboo chairs to read together. Even the outside section (where we moved to get away from the smell) only has 2 tables in it! So, you're left standing or sitting on concrete.

I'd forgotten how the whole place has a closed in feel about it. With a large reference section that I couldn't see anyone use (why not just free up all this space and add more computer access?). I know that they are re-building the children's library but even the adult section just doesn't invite you to browse and stay.

We are really in a sorry state when I would prefer my daughter to spend her afternoons at a local book store than at the "best" library Palo Alto can provide.

Comments (14)

Posted by beevis
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2006 at 1:23 pm

You should try Mountain View or Los Altos' libraries. They are sooooo much nicer than Palo Altos. I think the whole PA library situation is one of the biggest failures of our city gov.

Posted by Future PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Sep 26, 2006 at 1:59 pm

For the great reputation that PA has overall, it has neglected its libraries. When I first visited the libraries I was surprised. I had expected more for PA. Both Main and Mitchell are at best lack-luster. I usually use the Los Altos library on San Antonio. That library is significantly nicer. I'd recommend that PA residents visit the Los Altos library & compare, and then work together to improve the PA system.


Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 26, 2006 at 2:28 pm

One of the problems with the PA library system is that there is not enough money to fund 5 libraries--you would think that a city like PA would be able to get along with a single large library like Mountain View.
After all, how big is Palo ALto that it needs 5 libraries.
However any attempts to close any branches leads to yelling and screaming from a vocal minority and the vilification of the director of the PA library system (we all know what happened to Paula Simpson).
This is another example of a failure of leadership by the City Council--they refuse to groiw a backbone and make difficult decisions regarding our antiquated library system. But considering their track record with Alma Plaza, The Hyatt, the utility department scandal (and the list goes on and on) it is not surprising that nothing will be done on this issue either.

Posted by jane
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 27, 2006 at 5:36 am

Have we been going to the same libraries? I've certainly used the reference section in the main library numerous times.

I think it's pretty clear that you came to the library with a bias against it, ref your comments about Borders and replacing books with computers. Some of us know what libraries are really about.

I guess the gut the library system and branches and replace all those nasty books with electronics folks thought the town square would be a place to start a thread like this.

Really, you guys obviously are rolling in money and don't care about real libraries. Why don't you stay home, surrounded by your electronics and leave the libraries to people who really care about them. You've already ruined most of the rest of the town.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 27, 2006 at 9:56 am

Since libraries are about books, that is what I would like to see there. My email was down last week and I went to the library to check it. I had to wait 90 minutes to get to an internet computer, if I wanted to use it for more than 15 mins. Since I only needed to check email, I managed to get to a terminal straight away, shown how to use it by a very helpful librarian and be out in 10 mins. I just couldn't understand who uses the internet at the library in their lunch hours, since students, who I expected to use the internet there were in school. However, there is obviously a need and I am glad it is being used.

However, back to books. I recently was recommended an author new to me and rushed over to the library to get the books. I had to put a hold on the books (which I did not mind if this is a popular author gaining in popularity), but the only books the library had was the first in the series (published mid 90s) and the later books in the series. Not wanting to jump into a series in the middle, it was suggested to me by the librarian to put in a request for the library to purchase these books and they would mail me when the books were in. I had to put in a request for each book separately and each request was denied due to "insufficient funds to purchase books published over 10 years ago" or some such nonsence and each request was mailed to me separately with individual postage. Firstly, a popular series where books are being put on hold by people who want to read the series would obviously to me to make sense to get the books in the earlier series available and secondly wasting money on mailing me separately with the denial, all annoyed me. What the library hierarchy is doing is not listening to what the patrons want. The librarians all agree with me that they should get the early series books in and were very helpful in telling me which other libraries in Santa Clara had copies, but actually making these books available to me to read would have been the ideal. Who makes these decisions and how money is spent and wasted should certainly be considered.

Posted by r
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2006 at 12:29 pm

Actually, Jane, I do really care about libraries - that's why I was so disappointed.

I won't try to make suggestions since I just get flamed (though there are a lot of ways of dealing with access to reference books without taking up valuable floor space). What I will say is that I want libraries to be a place that can help instill a love of reading, learning & sense of community. Unfortunately the main Palo Alto fails abysmally at all these. And your fix to this, Jane, is to tell people "Why don't you stay home" and not use them...(?)


p.s. Beevis, thanks, I'll try the Mountain View library - even their website looks refreshing.

Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 27, 2006 at 2:16 pm

Jane, we do care about "real" libraries, that is why we find what they call in PA, a library, disappointing.

Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 28, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Los Altos and Mountain View and Redwood City and Cupertino and Santa Clara (need I go on?) all have WONDERFUL public libraries! Please check them out! Palo Alto could have had several nice ones by now if some residents hadn't had the requirement of going too far and requiring so many small branches here - it really is unworkable/unsustainable and I think time is showing me to be correct on this.

Posted by library lover
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 1, 2006 at 11:43 pm

I tend to agree that Palo Alto library budget is stretched too far over its many branches-- but you guys are all forgetting that a HUGE survey was done, of a significant majority of Palo Alto residents, that overwhelmingly said "KEEP the branches"-- so the Library Commission has acceded to the citizenry and so has the City Council. And Paula Simpson was villified by many for even suggesting a change to a single central library (actually the historic Children's Library was going to be kept, too).
So complaining about it now doesn't seem to help-- where were you all when the survey and all that fuss was going on?
Instead of just complaining and going to other cities' libraries, why not do something about it? Maybe a petition? A counter-survey? Think of something productive to make the change you want happen...

Posted by Beevis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2006 at 8:50 am

Sometimes "Huge Surveys" aren't the way to get things done unfortunately. If you ask, most people will say they want their city library near where THEY live. If you ask, people want their governments to spend money on programs THEY use. That's where real leadership comes in and makes the hard decisions. And the silent majority needs to wake up and back up leaders who make tough decisions - like the need/logic of going to a central library

Posted by Lynne
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2006 at 10:36 pm

If you are in favor of an upgraded and expanded Mitchell Park Library, now is the time to let the City Council know this is important to you.

In December, the Library Advisory Commission (LAC) will present its final report to the Palo Alto City Council, who will then make a decision on this important issue.

A petition has been launched to demonstrate community support for expanding the Mitchell Park Library. To sign the petition, go to:

Web Link

Posted by Jenny McElaney
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 17, 2007 at 10:57 am

Read about the new "Teen Zone" added to the Main Library at this site: Web Link

Posted by Questions & Comments
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Maybe a tad late for this thread, but having a readily available city budget online with, in addition, abstracts, and simplifying visuals such as pie charts, bar charts, graphs, etc. would help us all better understand what is reasonable and what requires community participation/donations outside the city budget.

What is the library budget and where do the funds come from?
What are the duties of the Library Commission and how effective is it?
Tell us about Friends of the Library in specifics.
How many salaried positions, volunteers, internships, how many hours, are involved? What do benefits and pensions cost?
Are these accounted for separately as library costs or lumped into city costs?

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Green Acres

on Jun 5, 2017 at 12:17 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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