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2004 Library News

Here are library and Friends of the Palo Alto Library news stories from 2004.
See also:
     Current News - Current and Previous Newsletters - Library Holiday Hours and Events
     Library and Friends of the Palo Alto Library News for 2012 2011 2010 2008 2007 2006 2005 2003 2002 2001

A New Way to Think about Libraries

(12/15/04) We're always happy to say that the benefits of a library are beyond measure, but some have wondered if these benefits could actually be measured.  Beginning in 1998, a group of researchers has studied several public library systems to quantify the economic benefits that library users derive.  For example, their study of the St. Louis, Missouri public library system concluded, "that the library's users are receiving back more than $4 in direct benefits for every $1 of tax revenues that the public is contributing annually to the institution."  In other words, the money given to libraries by cities is really an investment that not only pays itself back fully but also generates an excellent return.

In one part of the study, St. Louis library users were asked how large a tax refund they'd want in exchange for allowing their libraries to be shut down.  The average respondent wanted a tax refund seven times larger than what the libraries actually cost.  But only 12% were willing to be bought off in this manner.  The other 88% said they wouldn't close the libraries regardless of how much money they'd receive back for doing so.  The most common reason they gave was that libraries are too simply important and valuable to be shut down.

For more information, read a summary of the results for five different cities and also the full St. Louis study.

City Council Votes to Retain Branches and Expand One

(updated 12/15/04) After almost three hours of presentations, speakers, and council discussion on the evening of Monday, December 13, with over a hundred members of the public looking on, the City Council unanimously rejected all four of the City Manager’s recommendations regarding the library, including the two that would have closed the Downtown and College Terrace branches.  Furthermore, by a 7 to 2 vote, the Council approved keeping the branches open and directed the Library Advisory Commission to work on a long-term plan to see how these branches might evolve to better serve the community alongside an expanded full-service library, possibly at Mitchell Park.

See the San Jose Mercury article, Palo Alto Weekly article, San Francisco Examiner article, our previous coverage, and some letters to the Council and newspapers.

One official speaker was Lenore Jones, whose co-wrote the following remarks with fellow commissioner Paula Skokowski:

Honorable Mayor and Council members, Thank you for your attention tonight.

I am Lenore Jones, Chair of the Library Advisory Commission.

Thank you to Paula Simpson for her diligence and thoughtfulness in putting together the report she presented in November on the state of the Library and outlining possibilities, and to Frank Benest and Paula for putting forth their proposal this evening - and for including us in the agenda.

The LAC has worked closely with Paula Simpson in reviewing how to address the future of the Palo Library. While we agree on the need to create a full service library in Palo Alto, the LAC also weighs the desire of the community to not lose the benefit to those walkable neighborhoods that include library services. To summarize our conclusions for the Council, at our November 18 mtg. the LAC unanimously passed the following motion:

THE LAC recommends the City Council adopt a long-term vision for the Library that includes a full-service library, on an existing or a to-be-determined site, supporting a distributed branch library system that includes the current branches, and also recommends the library be recognized as a Top 5 priority for the 05/07 budget cycle.

This motion was subsequently endorsed, also unanimously, by the Board of the Friends of the Palo Alto Library.

Therefore while we support the CMR's recommendation for creation of a full-service library and the formation of a Blue-ribbon committee to develop an implementation plan, we do not support the short-term proposal to close branch libraries. This is contrary to the LAC’s long-term vision of a full-service library supported by library services distributed throughout the City. Study after study has shown that the city's library services at all existing branches are highly utilized and valued by residents. The community is not asking for fewer library services but rather improved library services.

We do understand that the city is facing increased financial challenges in the upcoming budget cycle; however as we chart a course for improving the City Library we do not agree that the best path to achieve this is to erode the Library even further by cutting back what we have to offer today. Instead the LAC would like the opportunity to re-define branch services and create distributed library services that look different from those we have today, but preserve their spirit. We would like to think creatively about how people might pick up and drop off books in their own neighborhoods where computer access is provided to the Library collection. We need to think beyond the outlets we have today. Think about Channing House, Cubberley, the Junior Museum, or a fire station. Could the Friends of the Library provide volunteers at pickup and drop-off locations and small reading rooms, thus enabling us as a community to maintain the goal of walkable neighborhoods? We think it is time to re-think the design of the services at the branches and not be constrained by their 20 to 30 year-old design.

Towards that end, while we urge the city council to endorse the long range plan as put forth in the CMR before you this evening, that is points 1 and 2, we offer this substitute for points 3 and 4:

1. Include Palo Alto Libraries as a Top 5 priority for the 2005-2007 budget cycle.

2. Direct the LAC to come back with a proposal within the next year for a forward-thinking plan for how the City distributes library services at library outlets throughout the City.

3. Keep Downtown and College Terrace as outlets for library services. Allocate an additional $850,000 for the next fiscal year to restore library hours and address the deterioration of collections at the five existing locations during this interim period while we re-define the future for distributing library services.

The LAC is available this evening to answer your questions. Thank you for your attention.

Children's and Bargain Rooms to Open at 10 am

(12/9/04) The elves who operate our Children's and Bargain Rooms (K6 and K7) have decided to open from now on at 10 am on Saturday (it used to be 9 am). Given how hard all the elves work, we couldn't say no. Both rooms are open until 4 pm on Saturday and then again from 1 to 4 pm on Sunday.

A Free Way to Help the Libraries

(12/9/04) Whenever you shop online for anything at Amazon.com or at Keplers (our largest local independent book seller), a percentage of your purchases will be donated to us if you start your shopping trip on our web pages. Just click on the Amazon or Keplers links on the top right of any of our web pages.  All the proceeds raised in this way go to help the library, and it costs you nothing.

Several Branches Threatened with Closure

(updated 12/13/04) For the fourth time in five years, the City is again considering closing library branches. This time, as many as four branches could be affected.

In short, the City Manager will propose to the City Council tonight (December 13) that the College Terrace and Downtown branches be closed no later than June 2007. Meanwhile, he proposes to begin to plan and find funding for a "full-service" library somewhere in Palo Alto.  If that library were located at Mitchell Park, the Main Library would be closed as well, leaving no library facilities for adults in North Palo Alto whatsoever.  If instead the Main Library were the site for the "full-service" library, then the Mitchell Park branch would lose significant staff and other resources. The only library that is certain to remain under this proposal is Children's.  The result will be a two or three library system very different from the present set of five libraries spread across the town.

Branch closure has resurfaced this year because city finances are under pressure. However, the Downtown and College Terrace branches actually cost very little to operate and are used a lot. While the city has still not detailed the operating costs of the individual branches, only about 7% of the library's staff (and no higher-paid degreed librarians) work at these branches, which at the same time generated 10% of circulations and 16% of visits in the 2003-2004 fiscal year. Closing branches that cost less than the usage they generate is not an efficient way to save money. Furthermore, once these branches are shut down, it is extremely unlikely they would ever be opened again.

The City Manager has recommended that if the College Terrace and Downtown branches are kept open, an additional $850,000 in annual funding be given to the libraries.  However, that is far more than the actual cost of operating those branches, which the current budget already covers.  Of the $850,000, $250,000 is to enhance the collection and approximately $300,000 is for staff time that will not affect open hours at any branch.  Closing the branches will not free up $850,000 either, so there is no reason to connect this request to the closure decision.  Said simply, it clearly will not cost $850,000 to keep all the branches open, despite what an editorial in one local newspaper claimed yesterday.  In addition, the board of the Friends of the Palo Alto Library has not voted on whether to support the request for the additional $850,000.

Other California cities affected by budget shortfalls have opted instead to reduce library hours or to cut extra services, or even to use volunteers to fill in. With the exception of Salinas (which may have to shut down its entire library system), Palo Alto will apparently be the only city in California to have branch closures. That will be quite a comedown for our city's prized college-town reputation.

Palo Alto also emphasizes walkable neighborhoods, which impart a small-town flavor while reducing car traffic and encouraging healthy biking and walking. Our present library branch structure supports this concept, making it possible to visit and use a library without a trip across town. Indeed, technology and interlibrary loans increasingly bring more resources to these branches, such that many residents find no need to visit a large, central facility at all.

The City's own Library Advisory Commission, which is separate from the City Manager, has opted to oppose the branch closure proposal, as has our own organization's board of directors. Indeed, we are actively working with community groups and numerous residents to save the threatened libraries.  With the exception of the Terman Park branch, which was reclaimed by the school district, Palo Altans have successfully defeated all past attempts to close branches, dating back to the 1960s.  You can help keep the College Terrace and Downtown libraries open by e-mailing the City Council with your support for the branches. Your e-mail will go to all nine City Council members, so it's an easy way to convey your opinion to them. You can also attend the City Council meeting tonight at 7 pm at City Hall (250 Hamilton Avenue).

You may also read want to read the full City Manager's recommendation.  Note that it is mute about the projected impact on usage or traffic.  Closing and downsizing branches in favor of a central library might well mean fewer people would go and usage would decline.  That would be a galling outcome after spending perhaps $50 million or more to build a new library on the scale of Santa Clara's.  No document has emerged yet that explains the actual cost of the branches or how closing them would affect usage, traffic, or crowding and parking at the remaining branches.  We calculate that visits at the Main Library might rise by 52%, adding immense problems to an already-heavily used facility.  The most clear advantage cited (page 4) is that "the Library would be able to purchase approximately 2,300 more books in year one by redirecting funds from the College Terrace and Downtown collection allocations," but that obviously is incorrect.  These would not be "more books" but rather just different locations that would get new books.  Moreover, these will also be the least popular new books at those locations, since the more popular ones are being purchased anyway.

See related story and the December 10 Palo Alto Weekly and San Jose Mercury articles.

Have a Glorious Holiday Season

(12/9/04) If we don't get a chance to say it to you personally at our booksales, all of us at the Friends wish you a very joyous holiday season and New Year. We hope you'll have some time during the holidays to actually read a few of the books you purchase from us and get good and rested in time for the January 2005 sale!

It has been a glorious year for us as well. November's sale earned $19,151 overall, which is an incredible achievement for us. Our sales over the last five months have averaged $15,400 each. We wish to thank all of our wonderful customers, donors, volunteers, members, and supporters who together make our book sales possible.

Computer Reservations Now Running

(12/9/04) The new software that allows your to reserve time on the public Internet stations is now running, after some initial technical difficulties. More information.

Library Annual Report

(12/9/04) Read the library's new Annual Report for the fiscal year from July 2003 to June 2004.  The report gives information about the overall library system, the individual branches, and the budget.

Library Fate to be Discussed

(12/8/04) Next Monday's City Council meeting will no doubt be an important day for the city's libraries, as City Manager Frank Benest is scheduled to present his recommendation as to how the library system should change, if at all.  City Council members will have a chance to voice their opinions and possibly vote on the future of the library system.  The council meeting takes place at 7 pm in City Hall at 250 Forest Avenue.

Projected city budget pressures and rising library costs have some local residents arguing for closing the College Terrace and Downtown branches, while others believe that the efficiency of those branches (they serve more users than they cost) and the walkable neighborhoods that have grown up around the libraries make them well worth preserving.   Branch supporters also point to the difficulty of passing further bond measures if certain communities lose libraries and that cutting less vital services might make more sense than closing branches.  On December 1, the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Palo Alto Library discussed this issue after having heard from many sides.  The board members voted unanimously to support the Library Advisory Commission's recent recommendation that all branches be preserved and that an expanded library be built at Main, Mitchell, or possibly some other site.

We are also very excited about a quicker and far less-expensive way to expand our collection, namely by joining the LINK+ consortium.

For a taste of what's to come, the Library Advisory Commission will itself examine this issue and the City Manager's recommendation on Wednesday, December 8 at City Hall at 7 pm.

The December 8th issue of the Palo Alto Weekly has a number of articles devoted to this topic, which you can read here:

· Cover story: Out on a Limb?
· Branch Comparison Chart [note: the College Terrace branch's hours were slightly longer when the data was collected]
· Previous Attempts to Close the Branches
· Editorial: End the Deadlock in Library Debate
· Guest Opinion: Another Approach to Library Organization
· Letter to the Editor: Why Branches Make Sense [fourth letter down]

Library Commission Supports Branches, but Downtown Hours Delayed

(11/18/04 later) The Library Advisory Commission met this evening for about three hours and debated a number of issues.  In response to the various options presented last week to the Council by the Library Director (see our coverage), and acknowledging a perception among many outsiders that the Commission was anti-branches, the commissioners unanimously adopted a motion recommending that all existing branches continue to be operated and that a full-service library be developed at Main, Mitchell, or possibly some other site.  Strictly speaking, this is different than the option presented to Council last week that would have closed Downtown, College Terrace, and Main in order to build a central library elsewhere.  Of course, the Commission only serves in an advisory role, and the City may still end up advocating the closure of Downtown and College Terrace on December 13, when the City Manager will make a recommendation to the Council.  Anticipating and hoping to respond to that recommendation, the Commission moved up its next meeting to December 8. This will give the Commission a chance to review the recommendation and perhaps communicate about it to the Council.  See the Palo Alto Weekly article.

The Commission went on to finalize its letter to the City Council advocating that the $35,000 offered by the Council be used to reopen the Downtown Library on Saturdays. This was also unanimously approved. This matter first came to the Commission in July, which then worked on the letter throughout the summer and fall.

The Council was supposed to take a final vote on the $35,000 next Monday.   However, the item has been dropped from the Council agenda and no date is known for when it be acted upon.  Many of the commissioners expressed frustration tonight over this. Councilwoman Hillary Freeman, who serves as the Council’s liaison to the Library Advisory Commission and was present tonight, said she’d look into the matter.

Will the City Council Reopen Downtown Library on Saturdays?

(11/18/04) The Library Advisory Commission met on September 30 and again on October 28 to work on their recommendation to the City Council that $35,000 be used to restore Saturday library hours at the Downtown Library. The commission will continue to discuss this at their November 18 meeting, with the matter expected to go to the council on November 22.  The Council offered the funds back in June and the Commission voted unanimously in July to apply these to the Downtown Library. We are very appreciative of the Council and Commission support for reopening the library on weekends, which will make it far more accessible to working people. See previous coverage by us.

Join for Bookstore Discounts and Credit Union Eligibility

(11/17/04) Here's some new benefits you get by joining the Friends:


10% off on purchases at Books Inc. in the Stanford Shopping Center. The store also offers a Frequent Reader discount program on top of our member discount.


10% off on all regularly-priced paperbacks and magazines at Tower Books at San Antonio and El Camino.


Eligibility to join the Stanford Federal Credit Union.  Previously, you had to be part of the Stanford community or employed by certain local companies to join the credit union.

To get these benefits, just show your Friends of the Palo Alto Library membership card.  Lifetime, new, and renewing members receive a membership card in the mail.  Other members may pick up a membership card beginning in August at our regular monthly book sales.  Ask for the cashier who is handling membership cards in the main book saleroom.  If you're not already a member of the Friends, you can join right now by clicking here.  Thanks go to Books Inc, Tower Records, and the Stanford Federal Credit Union for their great generosity to our members.

$422,000 Project to Boost "Library of the Future"

(11/17/04) The Friends of the Palo Alto Library, in conjunction with all nine public libraries in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton, are improving Internet access at the libraries and providing a spectacular set of new online resources for free to all who have or obtain a Palo Alto library card, thanks to a major Cable Co-op Legacy Grant awarded in 2003.  Approximately $343,000 is being used to add new Internet workstations in the library buildings, upgrade wiring, allow more laptop users to connect to power and to the Internet within the library, provide loaner laptops at the Palo Alto Main and Mitchell Park libraries, purchase new color and black and white printers, offer Internet and other tutoring at Belle Haven, and establish many other improvements.  Another $79,000 goes to offer at least two years of Internet-based resources from any computer at any hour, not just from within a library.  This includes approximately 150 years of the New York Times, fully searchable, beginning with the very first issue.  The Friends are enormously excited about this opportunity to serve everyone in our local communities and pleased to have spearheaded the grant effort.  See also a December 12, 2003 Palo Alto Weekly article, our thank yous, and the Cable Co-op press release.  Here's how most of the funds will be dispersed by library:

Shared Resources $58,000 Palo Alto Libraries
  Children's Library $19,000
Atherton Library $14,000   College Terrace $64,000
  Downtown $24,000
East Palo Alto Library   $39,000   Main $46,000
  Mitchell Park $42,000
Menlo Park Libraries   Total $196,000
  Menlo Park $54,000
  Belle Haven $42,000 All  numbers are approximate.
  Total $96,000

Help the Library While Shopping

(11/10/04) Whenever you buy books, CDs, DVDs, software, toys, and other products from Keplers or Amazon.com, 5% of your purchase price can go to help the Palo Alto Libraries at no cost to you.  Please remember to always use the links at the top of our web site so that Palo Alto Libraries will get the credit.  When you visit the Kepler's store in Menlo Park, tell the cashier you want your purchase to benefit the Friends of the Palo Alto Library and we get 10%.  It takes just a moment to help our libraries in these ways. 

Downtown Library Chooses Mascot

(11/10/04) The election to choose a mascot for the Downtown Library is over, and a clear winner has emerged.  The new mascot will be Professor Chimpson of the National Banana Party, who ran on a pro-literacy campaign.

Temporary Closure Update

(11/10/04) The temporary closure of the Downtown Library on Thursdays has ended (it will be closed on Thursday the 11th anyway for Veterans Day).  Meanwhile, the College Terrace branch will remain closed on Tuesdays indefinitely.

Reserve Computer Time at the Library Starting November 22

(11/10/04) A major change for the public computers in the Palo Alto Library starts this month.  Currently, you sign up to use the computers on a paper list and then are responsible for reminding the person before you when it's your turn.  With the new system, you'll reserve your time slot via a computer.  The session of the person before you will end automatically when your session is ready to start.  Lots of other libraries already use this approach, including all those in San Mateo County.  They've found it makes life easier for library users by enforcing fair time slots and allowing reservations in advance.  More information.

Creative Uses for Books

(11/10/04) If you're like many of our members and booksale customers, you may find yourself with (ahem) too many books on your hands at times.  Not to worry.  An MIT project recently demonstrated how you, with a little bit of creativity and glue, can turn all those books into reading lamps, picture frames, benches, bookcases, clocks, umbrella stands, nightstands, and rocking chairs.  See the pictures of how they did it.  IKEA, beware!

City Council Examines Library Alternatives

(11/10/04) Lots of people attended the City Council library study session on Monday, November 8 to hear about many future possible directions for our library. Library Director Paula Simpson presented six options in her report: continue with the present system, add funding, add branches, close smaller branches, affiliate with the county library system, and close the majority of branches but build a new central library. City Council members asked many questions and provided feedback, with the consensus being to avoid plans requiring new taxes and to retain the present branches. City staff will address Council concerns and make a specific proposal for a Council vote on December 13.  Read the San Jose Mercury and Palo Alto Weekly accounts of the Council's reactions.  Read earlier articles in the Palo Alto Weekly, Palo Alto Daily News (page 1), and San Jose Mercury News regarding the controversial central library concept.

Singers Entertain at Annual Meeting

(11/10/04) The "Friends of the Palo Alto Library Singers" held their premier performance at the October 27 annual meeting, cheering the crowd with a rendition of "In Our Library" (to the tune of "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady):

All I want is a place to read,
Lots of books for my every need,
With helpful staff indeed;
All these, are in our library.

Lots of videos for me to see,
Books on tape and now CD,
Newspapers and magazines;
All these, are in our library!

    Oh, just, think of all the wonders that our branches store,
    Filled with books from A to Z, plus, the Internet and more.

Storytime for each little one,
Summer reading lets teens have fun,
Fam’ly programs next to none;
All these, are in our library.

Archives filled with our history,
Going back for a century, plus
Modern data instantly;
All these, are in our library!

    Folks in other towns may smile at us but we don’t fear,
    We have higher circulation and annual visits here.
    (spoken) Per capita.

All of this is close to me,
At our five branch library,
Keep them going glowingly
And join .. the Friends .. of the Library.
    You will be
    Helping the

Palo Alto Libraries Are #1

(11/10/04) Not only do we Palo Altans love our libraries, we use them a lot too!  Among California libraries serving 60,000 to 100,000 people, Palo Alto ranked first during 2002-2003 in the number of times the average resident visited a library (15 times on average).  That's almost three times as often as the statewide average of about 5.7 visits per capita.

We also ranked first among the group by circulating 20.5 items annually per resident, which again is about three times as many as the state average of 7.3.  Palo Alto children earned the top slot too by checking out 60.7 items a year on average, whereas the state norm is just 19.

Incidentally, we also 4 books in our library per capita, coming in second to Newport Beach, which had 4.3.  Perhaps Palo Altans just like longer books?  Source: California Library Statistics 2004.

Combined San Jose Library Discussed at Annual Meeting

(10/27/04) At our annual meeting tonight, Professor Jim Schmidt described the extraordinary new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library in San Jose, which is the nation's first combined city/university library. It serves both as San Jose's main public library and as the central library for San Jose State University. Schmidt helped plan and inaugurate the library, is a professor of Library and Information Sciences at San Jose State, and served there as University Librarian for many years.

His talk, entitled Gown & Town: How to Build a SuperLibrary, began right after our annual election at the Palo Alto Arts Center Auditorium at 1313 Newell Road. The meeting was free to the public.

At the meeting, Althea Andersen, Gretchen Emmons, Gerry Masteller, Bob Moss, Gloria Reade, Steve Staiger, and Ellen Wyman were reelected to serve as board members through December 2006.  Two new directors were elected to similar terms: Rudy Batties, a Palo Alto resident since 1981 who holds a Stanford MBA and works in strategic marketing for technology companies, and Jim Schmidt.  The following board officers were elected for 2005: Jeff Levinsky, President; Wendy Akers-Ghose, Vice-President; Martha Schmidt, Secretary; Bob Moss, Treasurer; and Bob Otnes, Assistant Treasurer.

Two-Day Sale Broke Record; Sunday Hours Continue

(10/6/04) Last month's Saturday plus Sunday sale broke all past records, earning over $15,200, so we're going to continue with Sunday sales for at least the rest of this year.  All three of our rooms will be open this Sunday, October 10 from 1 pm to 4 pm.  Bargain room prices are the same on Sunday as they are after 2 pm on Saturdays, namely 25 cents for all paperbacks, 50 cents for all hardcovers, and $5 for a full grocery bag of books.  If you know someone who can't attend on Saturdays, please let them know about Sundays.

Ticket Line Gets Easier

(10/3/04) A customer recently suggested that we help our ticket holders know where to stand in the line for the opening of the main room on Saturdays.  So in September, we posted numbers on the wall that you can compare to the number on your ticket, which seemed to have worked well.  We'll continue that, so please look for the signs when you join the line.

Coffee and Tea Now Served in Main Library

(10/6/04) The Friends of the Palo Alto Library is happy to sponsor coffee and tea service in the Main Library as an experiment in providing more creature comforts to library users.  The new machine was installed just last month and is across from the announcement bulletin board, near the south end of the checkout counter.

Children's Library Expansion May Expand

The expansion of the Children's Library got a boost from a proposal to add an additional 610 square feet on the side that faces the Lucie Stern theater (the left side as you approach the library from the street).  The estimated cost of this addition is $300,000, to be paid by funds from the City of Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Library Foundation, and us.  The expansion should provide more room for the collection and for services and will be built at the same time as the new wing on the other side of the original library.  The new construction is expected to begin in 2005 and to take two years.  See the recent Palo Alto Weekly article.

Palo Alto Library History Explored

(10/3/04) Tom Wyman spoke today about the creation of our library system and the challenges it faced over time at the Lucie Stern Community Center at 1305 Middlefield Road.  His talk, entitled Our Libraries -- Then and Now, was well attended by the public.  Tom serves on the Library Advisory Commissioner and is the author of Palo Alto and Its Libraries: A Long-Time Love Affair.  He described some of the struggles dating back for a century to find space and funding for our library and showed photos of the Carnegie Library, which once stood on the corner of Bryant and Hamilton but was demolished in 1967.  More information.

Kepler's Helps Palo Alto Libraries

(9/8/04) We'd like to thank Kepler's Books for their support of Palo Alto libraries.  Beginning on September 19, mention the "Friends of the Palo Alto Library" when purchasing at Kepler's and 10% of your purchase price will go to help the library.  5% of your online purchases from Kepler's also goes to help the library when you click here or on the word Kepler's on our web site.  Kepler's has designated September 19 as a special Library Benefit day for the Friends.

By the way, Kepler's opened in 1955 and is the largest independent bookstore in our area.  They're located at 1010 El Camino Real in Menlo Park.  Read about their history and latest author events.

Celebrate the Children's Library Birthday on September 15

(9/8/04) Palo Alto's unique Children's Library celebrates its 64th birthday on September 15.  Attend a wonderful party at 7 pm, with a Beatles sing-along, activities, and a birthday cake.  As the song goes, "Who could ask for more?"  This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Palo Alto Library.

College Terrace Library Forum on September 23

(9/8/04) Help shape the future of our libraries at a community forum on September 23 from 7:30 to 9 pm at the College Terrace branch.  This will be the final such forum this year, so if you haven't had a chance to attend one, please do so.  Library Director Paula Simpson will lead a discussion about cooperative programs, new and different services, civic involvement, and the vision for Palo Alto's library of the future. "In today's complex society, the library needs to be nimble and responsive to changing information needs, and deeply involved in community life," says Paula.  Refreshments will be served.  For additional information, please contact Paula at 329-2403 or paula.simpson@cityofpaloalto.org.  The forum is sponsored by the Library Advisory Commission.

Bargains, Bargains, On the Wall

(9/8/04) When you rush up to the cashiers in the main booksale room, be sure to look at the special books for sale on the shelves opposite them.  You'll find autographed books, rare first editions, and other remarkable finds.  One book on the shelf this month is Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, a 315+ page compendium of song lyrics and his own illustrations.  This is a first edition and sells for $20.  You'll also find a charming 1899 illustrated version of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus  for $15.  What a great gift for a child: a book from two centuries ago!

Main Library Homework Help Begins September 8

(9/8/04) Palo Alto students in grades six to eight can get free afterschool tutoring and refreshments on Wednesdays at the Main Library, beginning September 8.  This is a new service, launched by a grant to the Friends of the Palo Alto Library from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund and with additional funds supplied by the Friends.  Two experienced homework helpers will be available from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm to help with language arts, math, science, social studies, and health homework.  The experimental service will run through June of 2005.  For more information, contact Laurie Hastings, Teen Services Librarian, at the Main Library at 329-2664 or by e-mail.  Read more about library teen services in the Palo Alto Weekly article.

Our Volunteers Have More Fun

(9/8/04) Lots of people came to our Friends volunteer party on Labor Day to celebrate how much fun it is to help our libraries (see some pictures).  Among them was Ed Rice, who has assisted customers at the booksale for about three years.  Ed says he enjoys the contact with customers of all ages and especially loves to see people buy books for their kids, perhaps ones that they themselves enjoyed when they were young.  Another partygoer was Suzanne Little, who has been helping sort incoming books, which lets her "see the great variety of books coming in, plus meet and talk to all the other volunteers."  Suzanne now helps price and organize the main sale room History and Political Science sections.  Her biggest surprise there: English history books are very popular, in Palo Alto of all places.

If you are interested in volunteering at the booksale or for other activities of the Friends, please e-mail us at volunteer@friendspaloaltolib.org.  There are always a lot of fun projects going on, wonderful people to work with, and you'll be helping to improve our libraries too.

Stanford Federal Credit Union Becomes Corporate Member

(8/11/04) We're very proud to announce a new member of the Friends at the $1,000 corporate level: the Stanford Federal Credit Union.  The credit union, a nonprofit organization with 40,000 members, normally offers accounts and loans just to people affiliated with Stanford and certain employers.  However, all members of the Friends of the Palo Alto Library are now eligible to join the credit union as well.  For more information or to join the credit union, please contact them at (650) 723-2509 or via their website.

Commission Unanimously Recommends Downtown Library Saturday Hourss

(8/11/04) When the City Council allocated $35,000 on June 28 to the library, with restoration of Saturday hours at the Downtown branch in mind, they asked the Library Advisory Commission to review the issue and make a recommendation back to the Council.  The Commission met on July 22 and discussed the issue at length, including how much the Saturday service would cost (the Council Budget Committee was told just $17,800 last year).  All seven commissioners then voted to recommend back to the Council that the monies be used to cover the Saturday hours.  The formal recommendation will be drafted and voted on at the next Commission meeting on September 30 at 7:30 pm and then sent on to the City Council.  We are very appreciative of the commissioners for their support on this issue, and are eager to have the Downtown Library reopen soon for Saturday customers.

16,039 Hours and Counting

(8/11/04) Ever wondered what it takes to run our huge booksale and many other efforts on behalf of the libraries?  For the twelve months beginning July 2003, our 137 volunteers put in a total of approximately 16,039 hours.  That's the equivalent of about eight full-time workers, and shows how much the Palo Alto community truly cares about its libraries.  These hard-working volunteers and our gracious donors keep our management and fundraising expenses to a minimum, and well below the 35% limit that the Better Business Bureau recommends for non-profits. Be sure to treat our volunteers nicely as you rush by them at the sale.  If you would like to join this energetic group and help Palo Alto's libraries and our community, check out our volunteer opportunities.

Library Computers Are a Hit

(8/11/04) Library computers for Internet access are extremely popular.  During the library's 2002-2003 fiscal year, there were 98,480 separate sessions on these computers, each typically lasting 30 minutes.  In other words, the library provided about 49,240 hours of free Internet time to the public, which was up about 20% from the previous year, and doesn't include wireless access for laptops.  Kinko's in Palo Alto charges $12 an hour for basic Internet computer usage; at that rate, the free library service generated benefits to the public alone worth $590,880, or more than 10% of the entire library operating budget!  The Friends of the Palo Alto recently provided the library with extensive funds for more computers, printers, and other equipment and wiring to help even more people use the Internet at the library, thanks to a Cable Co-op Legacy Grant.

Commission Unanimously Supports Downtown Library Saturday Hours

(7/23/04) Good news! Palo Alto's Library Advisory Commission voted unanimously on July 22 to use the $35,000 offered by the City Council to restore Saturday hours at the Downtown Library. The commission also discussed whether the branch  should be open from 11 am to 6 pm as before, or whether even more customers could be served by shifting hours earlier to overlap better with the Farmer’s Market, which runs from 8 am to noon. The commission next needs to prepare and send its formal recommendation to the Council. The Council will then vote on the matter again. But since the Council already expressed its preference that the $35,000 be used for Saturday hours at the Downtown Library, we’re hopeful that the branch's doors will open again on Saturdays within a few months. We'd like to thank the Commission and Council members for their extraordinary support of the library and hope to soon see the Downtown Library open again for Saturday users.  See a recent Palo Alto Weekly article (which has a few errors) and previous coverage by us.

So Many Books, Thanks to Incredible Donors!

(7/9/04) Our volunteers report that they've been happily working extra long hours to sort, price, and shelve all the new donations flowing in. So, if our staff seems a bit groggy and confused this time, you now know why. The good news is that all these books are on the shelves, ready for the sale.

Many people donate a single bag or box of books at a time at one of the Palo Alto library branches. Meanwhile, over 1,000 separate individuals and families have brought materials to donate in the last 12 months directly to our book room. All of these supporters of the library are real heroes, cleaning out their overstuffed shelves and looming stacks of books to create new readers and help fund the library.

Enjoy Reading with our Book Group

(7/9/04) The lively Friends of the Palo Alto Library book group has been meeting for many years now to discuss and enjoy a wide variety of contemporary books and occasional classics too.  Each month, about a dozen people meet at 7:30 pm on the second Thursday of each month in the cheery Fireside Room at the Lucie Stern Community Center to discuss a book chosen by the group.  Marilyn Williams, a retired social worker who attends almost every month, says, "we are very welcoming to anyone new."  Marilyn has been part of the group for about 15 years and remembers back when it met at the YWCA.  She points out that it's much more fun to read a book when you then get together with others to discuss it.  She also finds herself reading and enjoying books that she would never have encountered herself, and appreciates how the other members help her discover new ways to appreciate a book.  In coming months, the book group will be discussing Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (August 12), Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie (September 9), and The Book of Salt by Monique Truong (December 9).  See the full list of books and hours.

Online Book Sorting Contest Has a Winner

(7/9/04) Congratulations to all who entered our July online book sorting contest, which ended at 5 pm on Friday, July 9.  We're pleased to announce that the winner is Don Godinez, who picked the same categories for four of the five books as our own expert book sorter and booksale manager, Marty Paddock.  Because four other entrants scored as highly, we picked the winner from among them by a drawing.  Don receives not only our commendation but also a free bag of books of his choice from our bargain room.  Marty's recommended answers to the contest were:
1. The Constant Gardener (by John Le Carré) goes under Mystery and Thriller, as that's where we put spy novels.
2. Trustee from the Tool Room (by Nevil Shute) belongs under Fiction.
3. Amazing Grace (by Jonathan Kozol, not the other less well-known ones) belongs under Sociology, which is in the same sorting box as Archeology and Anthropology.
4. Paris Trout (by Pete Dexter) gets sorted into Fiction.
5. Jumbo Shrimp (by Jon Agee) belongs in Humor.

Saturday Library Hours May be Restored Downtown

(6/28/04) The Friends of the Palo Alto Library, the University South Neighborhood Association, and many local residents wrote letters and spoke out in support of restoring Saturday hours for the Downtown Library at the June 28 City Council meeting.  The Downtown Library is the only branch in Palo Alto without any weekend hours, and since it also closes at 6 pm on the four weekdays when it is open, many working people and fulltime students can never use it.  Until June 2003, the branch was open on Saturdays and Mondays as well, but it then lost both days while other branches lost only one day or less or even gained hours.  In adopting the budget on June 28, the Council allocated an extra $35,000 and asked the Library Advisory Commission and the library staff to consider using this to restore the Saturday hours.  The Commission is scheduled to discuss the issue during its July 22 meeting and make a recommendation back to the Council by October.  We'd like to thank the Council for their extraordinary support of the library and hope to soon see the Downtown Library open again for Saturday users.  See Palo Alto Daily News article and Palo Alto Weekly article.

Community Forum Brings Lots of Ideas for Library

(5/5/04) Last week's forum on "Taking Palo Alto's Library to the Next Level" brought together Palo Alto's new Library Director Paula Simpson and more than 60 people from all over our community.  After describing her background, Paula asked the group for suggestions as to how to improve the libraries.  This being Palo Alto, she got lots of ideas, including:


Keep lots of branches .. or have even more!


Expand evening hours


Expand morning hours


Expand weekend hours


Have more convenient places to plug in laptops to get Internet access and power


Continue having a friendly staff


Join Link+ to facilitate the exchange of books with other Bay Area libraries


Unify searches so that you can check the library, Google, Amazon, and online library resources all at once


Join collectives, such as the Santa Clara County Library system


Offer more resources to teens and young adults


Coordinate with school libraries to handle kids working on homework during afternoons


Have more books-on-tape at the Main Library


Put out tax forms, with a sign saying not to ask the librarians for assistance


Return to having tax forms available for copying


Increase collections


Get more space for the collections or be more efficient in using space


Let more people know about all the available resources


Expand the Downtown Library, both in size and hours


Have the Friends of the Palo Alto Library host more public events


Have more online periodicals and journals


Coordinate better with the schools


Promote books that relate to Art Center and school activities


Become a model for how libraries can cooperate with schools


Share facilities with the schools, such as having the public be able to use the Gunn library at night


Keep communicating with the schools


Have more computers and reference materials at the Downtown Library


Collaborate with others to get less-expensive online resources


Have little TVs with headsets so customers can watch or preview tapes


Paula then asked how the libraries could fund these improvements, which garnered:


Get City Council members to visit the libraries, so they'll be more supportive


Have the City Council choose whether to have neighborhood or centralized resources, so the libraries needn't debate this more


Have neighborhood libraries attract more children, so as to increase community support


Have a column in the Palo Alto Weekly that discusses new library resources


Tap companies in the Stanford Industrial Park for financial support and other resources


Use more volunteers in the library


Have a new bond measure


Hire a grant writer


Encourage more corporate philanthropy


Find solutions to criticisms of Measure D before asking for a new bond


Have a library-only bond measure


Include operating costs in new bond/tax measures


Emphasize the importance of libraries prior to the bond measure


Encourage the state to lower the threshold for bond passage


Ask wealthy donors to help out more

With so many active library supporters at the meeting, it was a very productive and energizing event.  We'd like to thank all the community members who attended as well as Paula, her staff, and the Friends' Events, Membership, and Publicity committees for all their efforts to make it happen.  Palo Alto Weekly article.

A Great Night for our Libraries

(3/1/04) The City Council meeting on Monday, March 1 was a wonderful night for Palo Alto's libraries.  The Council voted to appoint Paula Simpson as Palo Alto's new Library Director, a position vacant since Mary Jo Levy retired in 2002.  Paula, who is currently the Library Director of the Monterey Public Library, will be starting in her new post on March 22.  The Council also voted to approve our lease for two rooms in the Cubberley K wing, which will enable us to expand our monthly booksale operation.  Another Council action approved the contract between the Friends, the Palo Alto Library Foundation, and the City for the $2.1 million addition and repairs to the Children's Library, with construction scheduled to begin in 2005.  Finally, the Foundation and the Friends announced the official dedication of the fireplace and hearth of the renovated Children's Library in the name of Katy Obringer, long-time Children's librarian.  We thank the City Council and congratulate Paula and Katy and all the many volunteers and donors who worked so hard to make these marvelous events possible.

Paula Simpson's Remarks to City Council

(3/1/04) Upon her appointment on March 1, new Palo Alto Library Director Paula Simpson made the following remarks to the City Council:

Mr. Mayor and members of the City Council,

What an honor it is to stand here tonight as your new Director of Libraries for the City of Palo Alto.  I am so excited about this opportunity - to be part of the library team, and to become an active member of your community.

Contrary to what some might say about the demise of public libraries, what with the Internet and cafe bookstores and such, I believe libraries today are more important than ever.  Libraries open the door to books and learning for all.  They connect their communities with the knowledge and cultures of the world.

Your libraries are strong and vital ones, and I look forward to helping lead them to the next level.  And I'm really glad you confirmed my appointment, since I've already submitted my letter of resignation, and the movers are coming on Thursday!  Thank you once again, and I look forward to working with you.

City Survey and Auditor Looks at Libraries

(2/11/04) Palo Alto's City Auditor recently published the results of a 1,200 person survey that rates various city services.  81% of the survey respondents who expressed an opinion on the Palo Alto libraries felt that they were either excellent or good.  Similarly, 77% thought that the variety of library material was either excellent or good and 73% said that of the branch libraries.  These are not, however, exceptional scores.  The first two questions have also been asked in many other U.S. cities, and Palo Alto's ratings are slightly below the national averages.

The survey also found that 31% of Palo Altans used the libraries or their services more than 12 times during the year.

The City Auditor compared Palo Alto's library costs and activities to those of neighboring cities, finding that Palo Alto spends more per capita on its libraries than our immediate neighbors, but less than Burlingame and Berkeley.  Library visits in Palo Alto have risen by 20% over the last five years to 905,248 for 2002-2003 while per capita expenditures have risen 15%, total hours open have declined slightly, and  reference questions asked have dropped by 19% down to 88,759 per year.  Family program attendance at libraries has surged by 36% from five years ago, with 33,625 people attending some 517 separate library events offered during the 2002-2003 year.  We're very pleased that the Friends of the Palo Alto Library sponsors many of these events, using funds raised from memberships, donations, and our booksales.

New Library Director Nominated

(2/6/04) Paula Simpson, currently the Library Director of the Monterey Public Library, has been nominated to become Palo Alto's new Library Director, a position vacant since Mary Jo Levy retired in 2002.  If the City Council votes in early March to appoint Paula, she could begin to serve as early as March 22.  Paula earned a master's degree in library science from the University of Minnesota and has worked in libraries in Oregon, Indiana, and Illinois.  We're all looking forward to meeting Paula and welcoming her to Palo Alto.  See city press release.

Congress Grants $100,000 to Children's Library Project

(2/2/04) Recent federal legislation signed into law on January 23 provides $100,000 for renovations and restoration of the Palo Alto Children’s Library.  Last year, Congress awarded $90,000 in funds to the project.  The design for the renovated and expanded library will commence in the next few months, with construction anticipated to begin in early 2005.  See Palo Alto City Government Press Release and more about the Children's Library project.

Children's Library Project Enters Second Phase

(1/3/04) The Children's Library Expansion and Repair project is excited to have met its 2003 goal of raising $1.1 million.  Starting with an anonymous donation of $150,000 to the Friends of the Palo Alto Library in early 2003, and a pledge of $200,000 more in matching funds, the Friends, the Palo Alto Library Foundation, the Library Advisory Commission, and the City of Palo Alto raised the remaining $750,000 from community donations.  Meanwhile, the City of Palo Alto will supply $1.2 million of its own so that construction can begin in 2005.  However, the project now needs to raise $200,000 for furniture, fixtures, and equipment for the expanded and remodeled library.  Your donation can help this effort.  See the recent San Jose Mercury article, pictures of the expansion, pictures of the September 14 kickoff party, and an early Palo Alto Weekly article.

2003 Library and Friends of the Library News 

Friends of the Palo Alto Library (FOPAL) is a non-profit 501(c)3 public benefit corporation, dedicated to helping Palo Alto's Public Libraries.  Contact us at info@friendspaloaltolib.org or PO Box 41, Palo Alto, CA 94302-0041.  Privacy Policy

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