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Why no applicants for Palo Alto commission?

Original post made on Jan 27, 2013

Why didn't anybody apply for a recent vacancy on Palo Alto's Library Advisory Commission? The dearth of applicants for the advisory panel to the City Council -- despite recruitment efforts from July to October -- led to a council inquiry on the commission's "viability."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, January 27, 2013, 12:03 AM

Comments (23)

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2013 at 1:40 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The LAC has a long history of the majority seeing the LAC's role not as citizen oversight, but as a protector of the Library Director.

My latest experience was the 26 July 2012 meeting of the LAC. A group of citizens, of which I am a minor member, discovered that the planning for the remodeling of Main Library (and potentially also Mitchell Park) involved a critical mistake in arithmetic. The calculation of the number of books the shelves would hold was based upon having an additional shelf in the bookcase. There was a reason that existing bookcases -- both here and elsewhere -- didn't have that additional shelf already. It meant that there would be too little space between the shelves -- the typical book was too tall to fit.

Did the LAC ask the Library Directory about this? Or how the mistake had been made, or how it was going to be corrected? NO, NO, NO.

Instead the LAC spent 15.5 minutes denigrating the citizens who brought this to the attention of the Library Director and the LAC.

Another example: The renovation of the Downtown Library failed to install a significant portion of the bookcases called for in the plans. Despite citizens having pointed this out multiple times, has the LAC made the slight attempt at oversight? Not to my knowledge.

Yet another example from several years ago: At a public meeting advertised as seeking public input on renovations to Downtown Library, the Library Director at the time brazenly told the attendees that she had already made her decision and that nothing said at the meeting would change her mind. When people complained, a then-member of the LAC berated the public.

Council has played a key role in creating this problem. The LAC member in the last example was re-appointed. And who was not re-appointed? A LAC member who tried to perform oversight by asking pointed questions of Staff.

Why would someone volunteer to be a toady? And why is Council surprised about this dearth?

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Posted by Ben
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 27, 2013 at 4:34 am

Doug Moran and others who think they know how to run the library better than the current Director, should apply for the job the next time it comes open.

Also, the LAC is not supposed to be involved in the tactical details of the library. The LAC is primarily a sounding board from the community for strategic initiatives. Why didn't Moran and the others simply go to the Library Director with their information about shelves? I'll tell you why. They like to grandstand at every City Council meeting and Commission meeting they can. Seriously, these people have too much time on their hands!

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2013 at 9:20 am

I see they reduced the number of members on the commission. That seems a reasonable response. Now, if we could only get the PA city council to reduce the number of members, that would be an even better idea.
This city is way to process-laden, bureaucratic.
A way for meaningful citizen input, without 4 hour meetings (and etc.) would be great.

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Posted by Jon
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2013 at 9:31 am

Who in their "right" mind these days would serve on such commissions and committees? You spend long hours wallowing in minutia, preparing for endless meetings, listening to you cohorts charging around on their hobby horses, the public prattling on endlessly about this and that, unpaid, unappreciated, criticized within the city, and then demonized in the press. It attracts a certain type that needs or feeds on that energy (and God bless them), but I have been there my friends and lived to tell that life is too short to be so squandered.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

Perhaps the dearth of candidates is because people do not like what is going on with the libraries and knows that they wouldn't be able to make a difference.

When it came to the library bond a few years ago, those library people made the rest of us who opposed 5 libraries feel as guilty as if we were planning to get rid of the children's playgrounds, rather than having thoughtful opinions with equally good intentions for our children's future. At that time I loved using the library, still do, but I couldn't see the value in what was being proposed and still don't.

For that reason, I would not want to have anything to do with being in the planning for something I didn't agree with or felt that my views were not taken into consideration. You reap what you sow.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

So what exactly is the LAC (Library Advisory Commission) supposed to do? The City (meaning the taxpayers) already are spending at/above $7M per year for “Library Management”. The Library Director has been elevated to a “cabinet position” within the City Managers pantheon of “advisors”. So, what can the LAC do that isn’t already being paid for?

While the LAC (typically specific individuals) have made specious claims about the libraries, over the years—the reality is that the world is moving away from print-media, and that means the world has less, and less, use for a municipal library that is only open about 35%-40% of the time, rather than the 7/24/365 Internet/WEB.

Google, and the Internet Archive:

have been incredibly pro-active in creating a new model for information distribution/sharing (“the cloud”). Between the two of these entities alone, between 15M and 20M books have been scanned and made available to the public on-line. Amazon has reduced the cost of their Kindle line to a very modest $119, and has, perhaps over 1M books that can be downloaded within a minute.

Walk into any coffee shop in Palo Alto, or public space, and you will see laptops, netbooks, smartphones, iPads (and other tablets) on almost every table. There still are a few books around, but it’s very hard to know how many of those books were borrowed from the Palo Alto Library.

While some on the LAC claim that the Palo Altans check out books at a much higher rate than other cities in California—the reality is that about half the circulation is in Videos/AudioCDs. With the ever growing costs of labor, and now this massively expensive behemoth of a library building, the costs/circulated-item will be about $9-$10/item—once this facility is opened to the public. Over the next thirty years, the cost/circulated-item will jump to about $14/item (mostly because of yearly incremental labor costs). Given that people can rent a video for $1 at any number of locations (such as Safeways) using the Redbox distribution centers—it almost seems like a massive waste of public funds to continue offering videos.

Most people in Palo Alto don’t use the public libraries. At best, only about 14% of Palo Altans use the libraries more than a couple times a month. And, about 20% of the circulation is attributed to non-residents. Why should anyone want to spend untold hours listening to “advocates” ranting and raving about things that they probably know very little about? Between the “politics” of the people on this commission, and the fact that the world is going “digital”—what’s the point of wasting one’s time becoming little more than a dinosaur tender?

So—what is this “commission” doing to justify its existence?

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm

With 2 other organizations (Friends of the Library, and the Library Foundation) already involved with the libraries, what more will the LAC do that wouldn't be superceded by one of the other organizations if opinions differ?

And in regards to the Mitchell Park Library, for the price, Palo Alto could purchase 330,000 e-book readers - or look at it another way, it could purchase an e-book read for each resident, and increase it's holding by 2 million circulation items.

And since the new library will require an additional $1 million per year to operate, think of how many more circulation items could be purchased.

What was really built was a community center with a library attached.

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Posted by Lucy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Who in the right mind would want to do this? is a pretty good response to this question.

As pointed out, efforts to consolidate library resources into one larger, better planned main library, instead of the main library plus 4 neighborhood newspaper stands as we have now, were killed by this group a few years ago. The then library director quit after it was clear that the library director really had no authority to do anything except grovel before a small vocal minority who couldn't live without their downtown library news stand. So, Palo Alto libraries still spends limited dollars on duplicate staff, materials and really valuable real estate. well done, and typical of how some departments in the city run; very poorly.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re: "Ben" (second comment, replying to mine): "Why didn't Moran and the others simply go to the Library Director with their information about shelves? I'll tell you why. They like to grandstand at every City Council meeting and Commission meeting they can. Seriously, these people have too much time on their hands!"

This is an entirely false statement:
1. We didn't "grandstand" before the LAC or City Council. In fact, we didn't even go before them on this issue.
2. The Library Director was the _first_ one we notified when we discovered this problem (and a range of related errors). It was she, not us, that passed our letter on to the LAC.
3. We had been talking to the Library Director since February 2012 (6 months before the meeting) about various substantial errors we had found in the planning documents (to little avail).

"Ben" is the perfect candidate for the LAC: When presented with a serious problem, rather than push for remedial action he launches a specious attack on the messengers.

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Posted by Harriet
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2013 at 8:39 am

Probably do not want to touch with a ten foot pole.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 28, 2013 at 9:46 am

Why do we need the Library staff, Friends of the Palo Alto Library and the Palo Alto Library Foundation and Library Advisory Commission? For that matter, why do we need multiple library branches some of which are open for minimal hours?

Let the Library staff run the libraries. Use the Downtown Library and College Terrace for something that generates some revenue.

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Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2013 at 11:41 am

There may be a shortage of applicants because after all the hours the Commissioners devote to matters before them, the Council ignores their advice. And then the Council dumps smart, well-prepared Commissioners who disagree with them. So much for democracy.

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Posted by Readersmith
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

Who would serve on a Palo Alto committee, indeed.

Palo Alto loves meetings. From schools to city, the meetings are so inefficient. Here we are in the hub of IT, and so many meeting organizers fail to respect people's time by doing most of the work via email. So many committee members fail to have boned up on the basics BEFORE the meeting.

Meetings. Get up and walk out.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 28, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Readersmith - I don't know how the Brown Act applies to Commissions, but from what I've read about the School Board, public business can't be conducted by email if it involves elected officials, it has to be in public meeting.

Ms. Renzel - I agree that if a job is thankless and recommendations are ignored, there is no reason to volunteer. No one wants to volunteer their time only to be ignored.

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Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm

The City does not adequately advertise these openings.
You have to go on the city clerk part of the City's website to find out about vacancies.
Its not easy , or effective.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

The city also takes out ads in the local papers. I've seen them.

Additionally, over the years there have also been news articles on this website and in the hardcopy paper; promoting the various citizen committees and board positions that are open.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2013 at 6:17 pm

For a city of such smart people, there sure is a dearth of problem-solvers. Instead, it's talk,talk,talk sprinkled with a lot of "can't do": give the appearance of doing something rather than hash out solutions and DO. The school administration is even worse. Like some of the posters above, I've been civically involved in the past and am still licking my wounds.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 28, 2013 at 6:40 pm

> The city also takes out ads in the local papers. I've seen them.

Yes, and presumably the Library's web-site, and bulletin boards could be used to get the word out. And .. there are also mailing lists. Some years ago, the City did have a general purpose mailing list for people who wanted to receive on-going announcements from the City. That has disappeared. The City does have an emegency warning mailing list, but that should not be used to announce boards/commission vacancies.

> For a city of such smart people, there sure is a dearth
> of problem-solvers. Instead, it's talk,talk,talk

Would you care to explain? My experience is that the Staff is not interested in anything that involves technology, or cost-reduction. There has been a "suggestion box" on the Library's web-site, but I doubt that many of the suggestions have been reviewed favorably.

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Posted by Wha?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

If you want to base your comments on facts/statistics:
Web Link

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm

> If you want to base your comments on facts/statistics:

This yearly usage information is a better presentation, than in previous years. It has most of the information that someone might be interested in if they wanted a thumbnail’s-thumbnail picture of the library. There is a lot of information missing, most of which the library has. The most important missing information is the total cost of library operations for each given year. That means: OpCosts+ Cross-Department Costs + Capital Costs + whatever else).

Another immediate datapoint that is missing is the number/per-cent of total circulation in children’s books. This is generally around 40%. This year’s Video/AudioCD data is lower than I would have predicated, but even still, we’re looking at (Video/AudioCD + children’s books) at/about 65% of the total circulation.

I prepared this report on California Library use previously--

Dominant Users of California Libraries:
Web Link

The Palo Alto Library reports a fairly comprehensive dataset to the State Library on a yearly basis. The combined stats for all of California’s libraries are published on the State Library’s WEB-site:

California Public Library Statistics:
Web Link

The “view from the top” is a lot different that the Palo Alto Library’s view, by the way.

There are a couple of interesting datapoints worth noting—

Reference librarian requests are declining. This has been on-going for over a decade—

Future of Reference Librarians:
Web Link

And the number of “virtual visits” (whatever that means) has increased to the point that the number of “virtual visits” is now about the same as the “virtual visits”. Notice too, that the number of “Holds” has increased to the point that it is about 20% of the circulation. (Presumably these holds are placed on-line, but the WEB-page doesn't make that clear.)

I asked earlier “what has the Library Commission” done to justify itself. Being involved in creating honest, and meaningful, statistics is one thing I suppose that they could do. However, that does not seem to have been very high on their list of priorities.

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Posted by Ben
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 29, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Funny how Doug Moran plays the victim. the real subtext behind all this interference in the way the library is run is that Moran, and several other "City Council gadflies" were against passing the bond responsible for getting our library system repaired. So, expect these sour grapes folks to keep interfering with the library and every other institution that moves along without their meddling.

It doesn't matter than Moran complained about this to the current library director; it's not the LAC's job to run the library! If Moran doesn't like something that's going on in the library, he needs to go to the Library Director's superior - i.e., the City Manager.

Seriously, the time wasted at City Council and various Commission meetings by people who think they know how to run operations in Palo Alto better than the people who were hired to do their jobs - and, unlike the gadflies, HAVE SOME EXPERIENCE - is nothing short of stunning.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2013 at 8:05 pm

> “City Council Gadflies”

I wonder if “ole Ben” has much understanding of what this term means?

Web Link

Social Gadfly:
Web Link

A gadfly is a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or just being an irritant.

In modern politics, a gadfly is someone who persistently challenges people in positions of power, the status quo or a popular position.[3] For example, Morris Kline wrote "There is a function for the gadfly who poses questions that many specialists would like to overlook. Polemics are healthy."[4] Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg has talked about "gadfly social science," emphasizing a key role for social science in identifying and challenging the abuse of power, whoever the perpetrator and whoever the victim. [5] The word may be uttered in a pejorative sense, while at the same time be accepted as a description of honourable work or civic duty.[6]

It would seem that “ole Ben” probably doesn’t really believe in democracy, or the rights of individuals to stand up to government, when he thinks that things are tilting a little too much for comfort.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

1. Notice that "Ben" refuses to address the basic point: The error reported was one of utterly simple arithmetic: adding up a short sequence of one-digit numbers, that is, the height of books and the thickness of shelves, and seeing that they exceed not only the shorter bookcases called for in the plans, but the tallest bookcases that would fit in the room (some of the measurements involved fractions of an inch, but that wasn't needed to identify the problem). Explain to us "Ben" why you are so offended that citizens should expect the Library Director to be able to do arithmetic at an Elementary School level?

2. Caught in one set of falsehoods, "Ben" does what he normally does and follows up with a new set of falsehoods.
Note: The moderators have told me before in responding to the person behind Ben, under one of his multitude of other aliases, that I can't call them "lies" because that requires that I know that Ben's _intent_ was say something that he _knows_ to be false, whereas Ben has a long history of saying whatever is convenient, regardless of whether it is true or not.

3. For those for whom "Ben"'s writing style is not an immediate give-away, he is a former member of the LAC. Forum policy is that the person behind an alias is not to be named, but this is relevant to this discussion because Ben's conduct here is illustrative of the deep problems with the LAC.

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