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What do we really want in a good library?

Original post made by Carol, Palo Verde, on Oct 15, 2006

I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the times I have used the library. I live about half way between Main Library and Mitchell Park Library and I use both depending on what errands I am running at the time. If I am going to the Library and nothing else, it is really a case of eeny, meeny, miny, mo and I usually pick the library where what I want is checked out.

So this is what I want. I want a library that is not necessarily close to me as I tend to go to the library en route with other errands. This means that it doesn't matter to me where it is as long as it isn't by the Post Office, which I never use because it is so far out of my way and I would rather use the Mountain View P.O. as it is close to other places I am ging. I want a library that has what I want when I want it. In other words, when I get there I want to be able to find the book or whatever there waiting for me, not find out that the only copy not checked out is at a different branch. I want to find the book that I want available in Palo Alto and not be told by a very helpful librarian that I could try Los Altos or Mountain View which has happened recently. I want the library to take my suggestions sensibly. I recently asked for the earlier books in a series to be purchased and was told that they do not have funds for books which were published in the 90s. This seemed very odd to me as the recently published books in the series are always on hold and I have to wait for them. This shows that the series is popular and I can't be the only person who wants to read the first books in a popular series before reading the later books. I also want my requests to be made in such a way that the reply is emailed to me, or at least one stamp used rather than a separate letter for each request in the same series. I want to be able to use the internet within a 90 minute wait when my email at home is down and I just want to check my email and a couple of other things quickly. I want to be able to park or leave my bike outside safely and my children to be able to get their books or materials while I get mine.

I know that there is a petition to get the Mitchell Park library improved and I would definitely be behind this if it were to become our main and only library. I think that we need one excellent library for the above reasons. I used to think that it was a wonderful idea having so many libraries in different neighbourhoods, but my opinion has changed. I can't understand how the service meets our needs at present - it doesn't meet mine and I have seen so many complaints about this that I know I am not the only one. Once again Palo Alto seems to be surrounded by communities that have done something better than us. I would really like Palo Alto to be the leader rather than the poor relation and libraries could be an excellent way to start.

Comments (52)

Posted by Jane
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2006 at 8:32 am

I have also followed the library discussion carefully and agree with Carol - In a perfect world, every neighborhood library would have every item and service. Our community is big on diversity and we don't have unlimited funds. Why not pool our resources and substantially improve a central library, expanding our entire collection and making it accessible to all?
I find myself using the Menlo Park library more and more for their complete collection, centralized services, and primarily, the fact that almost all the time, the books I want to borrow are available in one place.

Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2006 at 11:47 am

Palo Alto is not a poor relation. It's just that PA is supports a very different libray model than Mtn View and Menlo Park: neighborhood libraries versus single central library.

Personally I agree that it would be great if we had a wonderful central library and would be willing to sacrifice some neighborhood libraries to get that.

Unfortunately there is a sizable contingent of residents that are willing to sacrifice a wonderful central library model to retain the neighborhood library model. Whenever the discussion comes up about which model to give priority, they win.

Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2006 at 5:35 pm

My guess is that the "silent majority" favors one central, very good, library. There was a recent survey that said otherwise, but I don't give it much credence. The neighborhood library faction is in their own little world, pining for the good old days.

Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 16, 2006 at 6:04 pm

I strongly hope that Mitchell Park Library will be expanded because it is the ONLY library south of the "magic line" and it is too small to serve the current need in south PA. Further, South Palo Alto will see a dramatic increase in population in the next five to ten years as approved and proposed housing projects are developed. I hope that we will act responsibly and build adequate library facility space to serve those new well as current residents.

I like the neighborhood library concept, although I see advantages to having a full-service library center. Perhaps we could use our neighborhood libraries as library satellites and adjunct community centers for neighborhoods. There are many aspects of the current library recommendation that I like, but I think it needs further work.

For people who don't mind driving everywhere, one central library may be adequate. However, for children who can't drive and some seniors who cannot drive (and we are building a LOT of senior housing)and for families like mine who like to walk and bike everywhere whenever we can...we love the library as a neighborhood walking/biking destination.

Palo Alto is a community that was designed with walkable bikeable neighborhoods---each neighborhood anchored with destinations like libraries, parks, shopping centers. That is part of what makes this community special.

Currently, my children stop at the library on our walk home from school. We run into friends, share books, then almost always find someone to walk home with. That's a model that builds community...and is environmentally sustainable because we don't HAVE to drive there.

However, Mitchell Park Library is way too small even to meet the current need. It MUST be expanded.

Posted by Lynne
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2006 at 6:18 pm

Are you concerned about the future of the Mitchell Park Library? If so, now is the time to speak up and let your views be known.

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.

If you are in favor of an upgraded and expanded neighborhood library and community center, let the City Council know this is important to you.

A petition has been launched to demonstrate community support for expanding the Mitchell Park Library. Signatures of 1,000 Palo Alto residents are needed. To sign the petition, go to

Web Link

Please encourage your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to sign the petition. Our voices need to be heard!

Thank you.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2006 at 9:07 pm

It seems to me that we have two factions here. One faction wants
a dynamic library service, able to get hard to come by books very quickly with all the mod cons of an up to date library service, actually meeting the needs of an intelligent, educated, well read community with books they want to read or subjects they want to research, rather than just something to pass the time. On the other hand, we have a faction who want a neighbourhood coffee house or community center with a few good books, where they can leisurely visit and hope to find a good book that may take their fancy while chatting to neighbours and friends.

Can we afford both? In an ideal world, maybe we could. But maybe we should try. We could have one central dynamic library with all the modern conveniences, served by the shuttle and on a bus route, with a decent parking lot. Then perhaps we could have a few satellite neighbourhood libraries, some highly recommended popular books, a children's play area and maybe a Starbucks to help bring the crowds in.

Posted by Responder
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Oct 17, 2006 at 1:03 am

I agree with Bystander that one library should have a core collection, and that library should be Main.
I use Mitchell Park quite a bit and am not bothered by the children around. They are quite charming. But it seems the library is being used as a childcare center after school, and that is a burden the library shouldn't have to carry. Especially since the community center is right next door and not very crowded after school hours. I think they are going to put some computers there and that should relieve some of the traffic (and computer game players don't need to be in the library).

I can't tell whether Lynne wants a remodel and some enlargement of Mitchell Park, or whether she wants to trash the current building. There is probably a big difference in the $$ involved.

Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 17, 2006 at 1:33 am

I'd like the current library and community center buildings at Mitchell Park to be replaced with a new, much larger single building with the library and community center elements integrated together.

Posted by Bookworm
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2006 at 9:37 am

I'm gload this has been a cogent, respective discussion so far. I agree with Howard, that there is a silent majority that if motivated to respond would want a single, highly useful library. I don't believe the neighborhood library crowd is large - just highly vocal and organized. And we're all suffering because of it. I do think that spreading city services out a bit would help pull the city together somewhat, so in my mind Mitchell park would be the ideal place for a central library.

Posted by r
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2006 at 1:51 pm

My vote would be to concentrate on having a good (ideally excellent!) central/main library. It's sad that even Palo Alto librarians now suggest going to neighboring city libraries for books/services as mentioned by the original poster.

Posted by Responder
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 17, 2006 at 5:20 pm

Referring people to other libraries seems to be a new policy, it happened to me too recently. A lot of stuff has been removed from the branches. Like reference books and magazines.

Posted by Jane
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2006 at 5:47 pm

Thanks for the good ideas. It seems like we have clarified some points. Let me reiterate mine, based on some others' thoughts. I don't care if the central library is at the corner of Newell and Embarcadero or at Mitchell Park, but lets make it a central vibrant library, complete with excellent staff, full service hours, the entire library collection and a focus on the library needs of the entire community.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 17, 2006 at 10:00 pm

We've been mostly using the county library in Los Altos for the past few years now because it's so much easier with kids. They have a nice new children's wing, which is set up to be welcoming for sitting, reading, and even playing with legos for the younger kids. No worries about bothering adults. Also -- and this is really important -- far better lending policies. There is a lengthy grace period on fines for juvenile materials and parenting books -- which has made all the difference in our ability to use the library at all. There is a little area just inside the doors to sit, eat, get some coffee, and the bathrooms are relatively new and clean.

When the PA children's library opens, we will go visit, but we will probably not check anything out, the policies in the Palo Alto library system are just not as helpful. For example, children's DVD's are allowed out for just a week at a time. If someone else puts a hold on it, you have to make a special trip to the library to turn it in right at the end of that week or face a fine. The Los Altos library allows three weeks by contrast, with two renewals. With small kids, a week sometimes isn't even long enough to find a good time to show a movie.

I wrote letters with my suggestions, and no one really took it seriously. The head of the library at the time told me that in her experience, "grace periods don't work." Hmm. I can't even understand where that came from, they're working in Los Altos -- for parents of young kids, they can really make the difference between being able to use the library and not. People can argue that point, but it doesn't change that the Palo Alto lending policies are just not as user-friendly as the county library lending policies are -- and it's not like the county system is so rich compared to Palo Alto. I even made other suggestions for restructuring the fine system so that it wasn't substantially different in raising revenue (ugh, should the library really be trying to raise revenue through fines? but that's what they cared about) but at least it would have been more encouraging of library participation. In my experience, it really felt like the people running the Palo Alto system really didn't care as much about incorporating suggestions from the community and trying out new ideas that work in surrounding areas.

Posted by Evan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 17, 2006 at 11:19 pm

AJ, I can understand your frustration with the one-week policy for DVDs but please keep in mind that Palo Alto libraries cannot not be compared to the Santa Clara County library system. I work at the Mitchell Park branch and in order to keep circulation flowing we implement this one-week policy. For example, pretend you are #21 on a hold list for one DVD. Given the max # of days of the hold shelf (5 days) and the max # of days for checkout (7 days) you could potentially wait up to 240 days. If the checkout period was extended to 3 weeks, you could wait up to 520 days! More than a year and more than twice the wait! This problem would be solved if there were more copies of the same DVDs in circulation, but then again money is ALWAYS the limiting factors for the libraries. The cost of running Palo Alto libraries has increased a large amount because of the new contract for all library employees. A majority of the employees were working without basic benefits... and some worked for over five years and were still considered "temporary."

The Palo Alto library staff would love to address all major issues and improve infrastructure but without money, nothing can be accomplished. The city can do one of two things 1) Increase funding for the library department 2) Cut spending for certain resources and programs and divert the money elsewhere. Raising fines would generate a small sum of money and could potentially cause protest. An extra thousand dollars from fines is miniscule compared to the millions the library department requires. Some staff members have thought about implementing a fine for holds that are not picked up. Holds are actually a major drain on library resources; the huge demand for holds has required libraries to have additional staffing to find books on the shelves and then process them, only to have some of the holds never picked up by those that placed them.

The library system is currently running at its maximum capacity given the current conditions. Whenever we buy new books, old books must be thrown out. Shelving space is limited and branches are understaffed. Working conditions are difficult as well. We've closed several times during the hot summer because the working environment was deemed "hazardous." Palo Alto libraries also implement an "overflow" system to place books on spare carts due to unavailable shelf space. The same system is nonexistent at neighboring city libraries because space is not a critical issue.

Library staff members need the support of the city to improve the conditions and infrastructure. If city council members could listen to the voices of the minority who supported neighborhood libraries, shouldn't they listen to the larger majority who are fed up with the current situation? How can we have such an outdated, abhorrent library system to complement the city's outstanding and prestigious schools?

Posted by r
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2006 at 9:43 am

Evan, if there are 21 people waiting for a DVD then it's time to buy a second copy of that DVD! Even if money is an issue, having 21 people waiting for a DVD/book/whatever shows you where any money needs to be spent.

Posted by library enthusiast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:39 am

Libraries are wonderful and help a wide variety of people. I can't believe the arguing, unnecessary delays and lack of progress on solving Palo Alto's major library needs. We need a big overall plan to get going soon. I suggest we have Main as the main library, Mitchell, and Children's Library - and that's it, no downtown. People really need to get out and compare Palo Alto's population and geographic size with those of our neighbors and then take a look at various libraries. Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara - need I go on? - all have wonderful libraries functioning beautifully and Palo Alto is WAY behind the times. Various antiquated and crowded buildings, partial (partially duplicated?) collections, and staff with major challenges to keep things going - NOT the way to go. The library should be the pride of the city.

Posted by Jill
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2006 at 12:41 pm

I too would favor a well-stocked central library. The idea of neighborhood branches as community centers has merit, however. Every neighborhood would benefit from having a gathering place or homework center or what have you. Perhaps we can go the final step and TRULY turn them into community centers, rather than flagging library branches?

Or perhaps school libraries could be open longer, so children could stay there after hours, and the local library branch could serve the needs of adults by being stocked with magazines and newspapers and such for casual reading.

Posted by JS
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2006 at 1:18 pm

>Perhaps we can go the final step and TRULY turn them into community
>centers, rather than flagging library branches?

This seems like a great idea. Residents could still order/return library books at these "community centers" through some distribution mechanism. Does anyone know if this sort of option has been seriously considered? Would it really free up the necessary funds to enable a decent library to be created?

Posted by Kathy
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 18, 2006 at 2:57 pm

The LAC has considered increasing the number of pickup/dropoff points and working with the schools to offer that in each neighborhood. I don't know what became of that, except that it's likely to entail some set-up costs as well as some staff time (of which there is precious little to spare).

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2006 at 4:20 pm

"r" said " if there are 21 people waiting for a DVD then it's time to buy a second copy of that DVD! Even if money is an issue, having 21 people waiting for a DVD/book/whatever shows you where any money needs to be spent. "

But what if the money isn't there? What trade-offs in other parts of the system would you make to buy extra DVD's? The devil is in the details. The system needs more money; If the latter doesn't happen, then serious alternatives to the current branch system will probably evolve.

Posted by Andrew
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2006 at 6:31 pm

Compared to cities of similar population and economic status, Palo Alto should have no more than two, possibly three libraries. Ideally, Main, Mitchell Park and the historic Children’s facility should be the community’s only libraries. While the College Terrace and Downtown branches are prized by the neighborhoods, these facilities are too small and must be an economic drain as well. Furthermore, the Downtown Library is only a little over a mile from the Main Library. How many other local communities have branches so near to another? None that I can think of.

It is also embarrassing that a city as diverse, educated, and affluent as Palo Alto has the library system that it does. The structures have outgrown their usefulness (no A/C in the summer), lack additional space for new books and have no quiet study rooms. Additionally, there are few computers, and those that do exist are on top of card tables or squeezed into corners. The computer situation is comical considering the City’s tech history as well location with Silicon Valley.

While the library staff is both knowledgeable and very helpful, they shouldn’t have to continually refer us to other local libraries for materials. Palo Alto deserves a great library system, something the community can look to with pride – a true resource for all.

Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:10 pm

Here is what I would like to see:

* good neighborhood library network, where you can select the books you would like to get on the internet site, then the next day pick them up at your local library.

* More chairs and quite rooms to read.

* Wireless networks at all the libraries, so you can work on your laptop.

* More educational videos DVDs from sources like PBS, History Channel, and (some) Discovery programs. (All the NOVA, and Frontline programs please.)

* Plenty of desks for students to study after school.

* Neighborhood library locations integrated into the bike network and school locations to make it more accessible for kids.

(Of course we alread have some of this. Please don't lose it to a single large central library that will force 80% of people to drive to the library.)

Posted by Evan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:31 pm

Just as an FYI... Whenever the library purchases DVDs the costs are often times much higher than if the DVD were bought from Costco or any other store. It costs money to purchase it from a supplier and also to ship it. Then it cost more money to process the DVD (buying plastic case, sercurity device, barcoding, entering into system, labor cost) before the DVD finally ends up on a shelf. At times, DVDs actually cost more than DOUBLE the price the library pays to buy them originally. DVDs are also the most commonly stolen items at libraries. Security devices are only made out of plastic and the cases are not imbedded with microchips to trigger alarms. I'm not even sure why there are sensors by the door anyways! Maybe they're just there for "decorative" purposes and to create the false sense of security.

Also, in order to offset the cost and lessen the high demand for popular books, the library department actually "borrows/rents" books from a private supplier. It may seem awkward to borrow a book that the library itself "borrowed." This is a method to fix the situation in the short-run. For example, whenever Harry Potter books are released we will rent large quantities of the new release. After demand for the book decreases we can return the book to the supplier instead of having twelve copies of Harry Potter on the self. Maybe the same method can be applied to DVDs, but our current supplier and many others do not offer DVDs for rent.

Posted by Evan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:53 pm

To Alan,
I would like to see all your suggestions as well!
1) staff members try to process requests as quickly as possible, but the job of finding materials on the shelves and then shipping them to other libraries takes time. Deliver vans run only about twice a day, sending holds and returns to proper branches. The duty of pulling materials is also only conducted a few times a day given current staffing.
2) adding chairs or more tables would actually violate state laws regarding fire codes at the Mitchell Park branch and other having space issues.
3) Mitchell Park offers wi-fi... and we would like to expand services to other libraries, but once again cost is an issue.
4) I like watching PBS and Nova but the library favors heavily demanded movies. We have quite an extensive collection of non-fiction DVDs, but they're spread througout the libraries. Librarians would also be glad to take suggestions for purchases as well.
5) refer to #2
6) Reloacting neighborhood libraries or building new ones are far beyond possible for the library department.

"Please don't lose it to a single large central library that will force 80% of people to drive to the library"
-I think about 80% of South Palo Alto already drives to the nearest library (Mitchell Park) The goal of the libraries is not to reduce to only one library but to what we can afford, which is 2-3 at this time. We can't have both without increasing the general fund. The library is literally playing a game of whack-a-mole. Whenever we increase a service, we reduce another. We need to keep in mind of what we're after... quantity or quality?

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2006 at 9:54 am

I think we have some great ideas coming out here. I myself would like to ask some questions.

1.Do library patrons usually visit the library as a destination for an afternoon or evening outing, or is it an albeit pleasant errand in a list of errands.

2. When the library is open after dark, do we still get as many non motorist library patrons as when it is light. I often visit the library in the evening, just before closing, as that is when my husband is home and I can more easily get away to do a couple of things. Too often the libraries are not open in the mornings when my children are in school and I run other errands, so that is when I am more likely to return books.

3. Do library patrons go into the library knowing what book they want to check out or are they looking at featured books, or new books, to see what they fancy to read? I usually have a fair idea by author or the actual book I want to check out.

4. When my children are doing a school project and e.g. they hear what the Native American tribe they have to research is, it becomes a mad dash to the library to check out one book on the subject, as otherwise someone else has beaten us to it and all the books on that particular subject have been checked out (usually by the same person). So do libraries know what projects the schoolchildren are doing so that they can limit each family to one (or perhaps two) titles to enable others to do the same?

5. When the average library visitor leaves, do they have enough books, dvds, etc. to carry to make the trip to a library something that would make a backpack, shopping bag, too heavy to carry comfortably? I know that my own children's backpacks are really heavy and even with bike carriers, a couple of extra books and a dvd makes a big difference to the weight they are carrying whether they are walking or cycling and that with perhaps their after school sports bag or musical instrument makes a trip to the library on the way home a safety issue.

Yes it sounds great what I hear from those who like the idea of lots of local libraries. I just know that in my busy life, it doesn't work like that and those who say it does for them may just be romanticising their lives as being as carefree as it sounds. I hear all the time how busy we are and how little time we have for doing the simple things in life that I find it rather strange when people say that a trip to the library is a pleasant afternoon activity they would miss if their local library was taken away.

Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2006 at 12:35 pm


Re: 4. I doubt that the libraries could track the projects of all classrooms in all the elementary schools. I think that wish is truely wishful thinking.

However, one way to address the problem of finding books checked out (and some of the others mentioned in your postings) is to reserve books instead of just showing up and hoping that they have what you want. These days, practically the only time I go to the library is when I get an email notification that a book I have reserved is available. I think this is an outstanding service.

Finally, while I'm not big on neighborhood libraries, I don't think you have the right to suggest that other people are being romantic about them just because they don't fit into your lifestyle. In particular, I can think of seniors going during the day, families going on weekends, and so on.

Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2006 at 12:43 pm

P.S. If the library doesn't have a book that you want in their catalog, you can also recommend that they purchase it. If you use the web catalog to place the request, you get this email notification:

We have entered this title on an upcoming order list. Please allow
seven to ten business days for it to appear as being "On Order" in the
library catalogue (
<Web Link ), at which time you may use your
Palo Alto City Library card number to place a free reserve request.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2006 at 1:58 pm


I do appreciate your comments to my questions, which I admit are not completely fair questions.

The problem with native american tribes has happened to me twice with 2 children. These projects are something that the schools assign every year at about the same time, so I think it is something the librarians are aware of as they have to help the children find the books and when I have been there looking, we have seen other families from the same class doing the same thing. The teachers also use the library and check out some of the books at this stage and so when this happens, there is always a great demand for these books. As I said, this has happened to me twice if not three times as my children have been in whatever grade this project takes place.

As for requesting the library to purchase books, I have tried that as mentioned in my original posting. I had been recommended a new series of books and went to the library to check out the first in the series This I was able to do, but the next few books were not available and I requested the library to purchase as you suggested. The later books in the series were already checked out with holds waiting so I know they were popular and I am sure those readers would also like to read the earlier books. Sure enough, a week or so later I received several postcards in the mail telling me that the books I requested would not be purchased due to the fact that the original publish date was more than 10 years ago. These books are historical fiction/mystery, which means that they will not age and the series is still being added to by an author who means to carry on writing. The fact that the library won't purchase these books remains a mystery to me.

I know I could check the availability of books at the library before I go is a habit I just haven't got into. I usually go to the library because I am passing the door and have time to spare rather than plan it in advance. In the same way I never check at Safeways to see that they have milk, I would never imagine that I would need to check at the library that they have a book I want.

I do take your point about seniors and families using the library in the neighbourhood, and I am sure that there are some who are not very busy. However, many seniors I know are very busy and families, even those with young children are also very busy. Seniors go to classes, volunteer, have jobs, and feel busy. Some drive and run errands for others and many use the shuttle to get about. Preschool families are also busy with preschool classes, moms and toddlers groups, play dates and this is regardless of whether the parents work or the children are with nannies/babysitters. There may be some people whose lives are carefree with time on their hands, but I don't see them telling me that a weekly trip to their local library is the highlight of their non busy day.

I think the discussions here are well worth having and I think that we have some sane and sensible ideas to help the powers that be design a better library service to keep all of us happy.

Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2006 at 2:17 pm


Perhaps you should change your habits regarding checking whether books are available. The analogy with milk and Safeway just doesn't make any sense. Individual books are scarce resources. Milk at a supermarket is not.

Also, I wish you would stop rebutting the argument that some people give in favor of neighborhood libraries by saying that in your experience everyone is busy and doesn't have time to walk to a local library. Your experience doesn't apply to everyone. Some people are busy and some people are not so busy. Why can't you accept that?

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2006 at 3:55 pm


2 fair comments

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2006 at 4:24 pm

I agree with Carol that it says something about our library service when there is no point going to the library until we have checked out if the library has what we want. Even Stephanie admits that she doesn't go until the book she has requested has become available. Why should we have to wait for books, after all the new Harry Potter books don't come out very often and there shouldn't be a long waiting list for much else. (joke).

Posted by Palo Alto Librarian
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 19, 2006 at 4:54 pm

In response to problems getting homework books:

The librarians are aware of the problems with assignments such as Indian tribes or California Missions. In response, there is an ever growing online collection of resources for children at:

Web Link

The resources are paid for by the library and require a library card to use at home. If you search for an Indian by tribe name in Gale Virtual Reference you will pull up an entry from Gale's Encyclopedia of World Culture for example.

One problem is that most teachers say you can't use the Internet without realizing that these resources are "E-Books" or online magazine articles and are reliable resources purchased by the Library for homework purposes.

The Library also recently added a collection on E-books on California Missions. For an explanation of that resource, visit -

Web Link

We hope this helps children get their homework done. And this lively discussion brings up many good points. We hope it continues.

Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2006 at 5:01 pm


You misstated what I said, which was:

These days, practically the only time I go to the library is when I get an email notification that a book I have reserved is available.

I don't see how anyone can expect every book they want to be in the library every time. I'll repeat: books are scarce resources. This is true of every library system.

Furthermore, I don't think the fact that I use the reserve system and the web catalog to check the status of books is an indictment of the PA library system. The web catalog and reserve system is just a much more efficient way for me to get the books I am interested in. I don't have to waste gas and time to go to the library to check to see whether there's a copy available of the latest bestseller.

I have quite a long list of books on my reserve list. For example, currently I'm 19th on the list for Charles Frazier's new novel Thirteen Moons. I don't see this as a problem because there are other books where I'm 1st on the list and until my turn for Thirteen Moons comes up, I have plenty of reading material. Also, they have 12 copies of Thirteen Moons, so in my experience I won't have to wait too long to get my notification that my reserve has been filled.

All this is not to say that I don't drop in, browse, and find interesting books and DVDs. It's just that most of my borrowing is focused on books that I know of in advance. For those, the reserve list and web catalog is a godsend.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 20, 2006 at 6:52 pm

Wonderful suggestions, I know it's just a matter of time before we bring our libraries up to the standard of our schools.

Although my wish list below is completely a wish list and is about as likely to happen as my taking a rocket ship to the moon, on the topic of what I would like to see in the library (for grownups), this is my WISH list:
1) clean, good lighting, comfortable spaces
2) good, accessible research resources like periodicals and inexpensive photocopying capability or possibly scanning capability -- we have a lot of writers in this town, my definitions of a great library is a place where one can answer any question or mystery. The biggest $$ hurdle then is getting space and reference personnel, but not all resources have to be expensive. For example, one unique research resource that cannot be found on the internet would be old encyclopedias going back as far as they can be found. These are still to be had in library book sales (and donated to libraries for free). If you need to know what the airline industry was like in Spain in the 1950's, or what the average woman wore for a middle class wedding in the 1920's, an old encyclopedia is a marvelous and detailed snapshot of a certain time.
3) comfortable spaces to browse, read through research resources, read magazines, etc.
4) good reference librarians
5) large, comperehensive collection (with a few older books, too, for heavens sake -- when I was a kid, I can remember finding wonderful books from the 19th century in the library, and I'm not THAT old!
6) Access to Lexis Nexis searches...

Okay, now I'm just making myself feel bad.

When I was a kid, our main library where we lived was usually more well-stocked for broad research than the local university's, and the kids books, bestsellers and new releases went out through the small branches and bookmobiles. I kind of like that arrangement...

Posted by designer
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2006 at 11:09 am

I can't help but chuckle. I don't know how many people actually read each response but it's way too many for me to read each and every one - it's great that people are so energized by this kind of discussion enough to post so many words to express their opinions.

Didn't we have a vote for the basically the same thing everyone's saying: a more central library, that being Mitchell Park, and having it become a larger building combined with the community center? Didn't it get rejected? Haha! I am in the same, frustrated but not angry at fellow Palo Altans, boat which wants a centralized library to serve our great town. I think more community action is required and to hold some focus groups or something with a few architects and city officials. Let me know when someone organizes it, I'll be there haha.

Posted by Lin Zhang
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 23, 2006 at 12:45 pm

I totally agree with Carol. We need a central main library. I live within walking distance to MP Library, but I haven't been there for almost two years, I go to the Los Altos library every week!

I do think MP is a good location for the main library, because it has room for parking. I don't go to the PA main library because it is so hard to find parking.

Posted by Future PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2006 at 4:13 pm

Future PA Resident is a registered user.

re: DVD waiting lists.. At my library, I got fed up with the long waiting lists for DVDs and caved-in to renting DVDs online. Totally, understand the frustration.


Posted by r
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 23, 2006 at 4:59 pm


That may have been the case, I just wonder if we'd get the same response now to a similar vote given the lack of any movement and frustration with the existing libraries. Maybe people are more willing to compromise now - from my recent experience I certainly would be.

Posted by Conor
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2006 at 6:11 pm

I understand the need for a central library, but I question if MP is the right choice. Being that Main in more "centrally" located within Palo Alto, it seems to be a better choice - especially if it is rebuilt with expanded parking or a parking garage. MP is just too far south. MP, however, should be enlarged or rebuilt.

Posted by ssquared
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2006 at 8:47 pm

Face it! Those north of Oregon cannot accept that South Palo Alto can finally get something they want--they have four of the five libraries, despite the fact that the population growth will take place in the South. We would do well with Children's, Main and an expanded Mitchell, following the model of Los Altos and Mountain View libraries. That way resources can be used in three, not five libraries. The days of walking to everything in your neighborhood ended with the demise of local schools. Look at the controversy over JJ&F. To read that some people would rather starve than face the closing of JJ&F is ridiculous. Face the 21st century, Palo Altans!

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 23, 2006 at 8:56 pm

There are many restrictions that prevent significant expansion at Main. Also, Main is too far North for most current and future Palo Altans. Cubberly will probably be reconverted to a school, putting yet another burden on Mitchell. There is no question that Mitchell should receive a significant expansion, possibly as apart of a complete - yet fiscally responsible - redo of both the community center and Mitchell park library, so that programs can be combined, efficiencies realized, and money saved.

Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 24, 2006 at 8:45 am

> Didn't we have a vote for the basically the same thing everyone's
> saying: a more central library, ...

But, everyone is not saying the same thing. The title of this thread is "what do we want in a good library [system]". several of us still mention good neighborhood libraries, but seem to don't count when you tally the votes.

I would ideally prefer a system that tries to keep branches near the school areas. One the stresses educational items over entertainment when getting materials.

Posted by SW
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2006 at 10:03 am

I am all for an expanded Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. However, I am also mindful of how much all the potential bonds (school, library, police station, etc.) are going to cost me. There is a limit to how much I want to pay in additional taxes.

I think the last library bond would have passed if it had been for a lower amount, so I hope the city council will be realistic about what the community will actually fund.

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2006 at 1:56 pm

SW, are you aware of this study, showing that for every dollar spent on public library services there is a POSITIVE fiscal return - up to 1000% (in Phoenix, AZ) for every dollar that a municipality (citizens) spend on its libraries?
Web Link

Reference to this study is also on the Friend's of the Palo Alto Website - see page#6 of the .pdf
Web Link

Posted by Future PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2006 at 5:00 pm

I keep hearing about growth in PA being in the south. Can someone enlighten me why this is so? I'm not aware of significant numbers of new homes being built *anywhere* in PA. Is this re-zoning from commercial to residential? Maybe something else I'm missing?


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2006 at 5:15 pm

At present there is a new development already started on what we know as the old Ryatt Hickeys site. This is on El Camino x Charleston and the first homes are being built on the first street one block east on Wilkie. There are also two separate developments started on E Meadow, east of Louis. The latter two are condos/townhomes and the former is both condos/townhomes and single family homes. All will come with some below market rate housing. There is also a proposed development on the east end of Loma Verde (called Classic Communities) but that is still in the very early
stages. I know there are others, but this is all that comes to mind without me having to check piles of papers I have stored on the subject, but I am sure future posters to this thread will be able to help more.

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2006 at 10:52 pm

here's a link to housing projects that are on line for production and approval - Palo Alto's population is projected to 80,000 in the year 2030 (according to Palo Alto's planning department)

Most of the new development will happen in the souther part of the city, with the Charleson/Arastradero Corridor receiving the initial bulk of the increase.

The Mitchell Park Library will have to serve all these people. In addition, the Cubberly Community Center may very well revert back to a high school, thus placing still another burdenn on Mitchell Park Library.

We need to plan and build for the future, in a way thatybe even Community Center space at Mitchell Park should be seriously considered by the City Council.

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2006 at 10:53 pm

sorry, I forgot the housing it is
Web Link

Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 24, 2006 at 11:20 pm

The approved Arbor Real project (former Hyatt) at the intersection of El Camino and Charleston) will yield about 187 residences last I looked.

The BUILD/CJL project at the intersection of Charleston/San Antonio will yield 352 units.

The Elks site (next door to Hyatt site) is zoned for just under 100 units and it is on the market.

The East Meadow sites mentioned earlier have been approved for 151 units. At a charette last year, city staff documents said that the entire E. Meadow Circles area "...could yield as many as 525-975 units of higher density housing..." (including the 151 units already approved).

Developer John McNellis has proposed 59 units on the Alma Plaza site.

The H-P/Mayfield Mall site (across from the San Antonio train station will yield 48 units in Palo Alto and over 550 in Mountain View.

This is not the complete list...but you get the picture. Add it up. It's a LOT of growth...and more is in the pipeline. We need to plan services for this new population growth in southern PA.

Posted by Libraryuser
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2006 at 10:54 pm

REOPEN Cubberley?!
How much will that cost? And who pays for it? Sounds like many millions.

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2006 at 5:25 pm

School populations are rising - there has been talk about the eventual inevitability of re-opening Cubberly for some time.

Cost? I don't know.

Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2006 at 1:01 pm

I read the recently published library survey and have come to these conclusions: (Full disclosure: I rarely use the public library, preferring to buy books on a regular basis to add to my private collection. Nonetheless, I think the residents of Palo Alto deserve a fine library system that meets the MAJORITY'S needs.)

1. 71% of the respondents use the library from a few times/month to never. Only 28% are frequent users.
Conclusion: develop the library system based on economics and efficiency, and not on vociferous input from what turns out to be a relative few in the city.

2. 63% use the Main Library; 53% use Mitchell Park; 33% use the Children's Library. Only 13% use College Terrace and 24% Downtown.
Conclusion: Close down CT and Downtown; divert the resources to the other three.

3. 60% use libraries outside Palo Alto
Conclusion: Residents seem to be well served either here or elsewhere

4. 88% go to the library for good collections and helpful staff while oly 16% go because it is close to home.
Conclusion: We don't need all the branches which seem to serve only a small minority of users.

5. Negative comments: 45% complain of inadequate collection and resources; 29% complain of cramped and outdated facilities.
Conclusion: Quality of the library rather than number of locations is at the top of the list.

6. 73% conclude that the present system is fine as it is or could use some improvements.
Conclusion: This does not sound like a major bond is needed.

In the conclusion respondents were asked what their wish list would be. As one might guess, a large number wanted a library close to home or work, with top-rated collections and a helpful and savvy staff at every location, with mobile and outreach services and more programs. No where are respondents asked if they would be willing to support a large bond issue to make all these things happen.

My final conclusion is that the city should consider expanding and updating the main library at its present location, relocating other services that occupy the building site to other locations if necessary, maybe the closed CT and DT branches. The school district should be required to provided after hour homework centers at the high schools and the middle schools, if they do not already do so. The city could provide a staff person at a low salary to watch over these centers. This would take the pressure of Mitchell which seems to be an active teen homework center. The College Terrace and Downtown libraries should be closed completely and resources devoted to the Main, Mitchell and Children's libraries. These branches could be used to house other community services. A bond issue should not be needed for these upgrades. If Mt. View, Menlo Park and Los Altos can provide high quality library services that seem to satisfy their residents, and often our residents, why can't Palo Alto do the same?

Richard C. Placone
Palo Alto
Barron Park neighborhood

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