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Library audit shows they're in bad shape

Original post made on Jul 5, 2007

Palo Alto's five libraries are in poor condition compared to 10 nearby libraries, an audit of the city's libraries by City Auditor Sharon Erickson has concluded.

Read the full story here Web Link

Comments (94)

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Posted by Benjamin
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2007 at 1:30 pm

We need to do three things:

1) Fund a bond measure that will repair our library's infrastructure - including physical improvments at Main, Downtown, and College Terrace, and a newly rebuilt Mitchel Park Library/Community Recreation Center.

2) Fund significant improvements in our library's collection, to bring it up to par with surrounding communities.

3) Fund increases in staff levels and staff training, so that the prior two investments can be optimized, and so that our library staff will have sufficient "headroom" to scale and innovate our library into the future.



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Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Palo Alto's problem is that it has too many libraries for it's budget. We should reduce them to two libraries: The main library, and an expanded Mitchell Park library. Then, both North and South would have 1 decent library each.


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 5, 2007 at 2:59 pm

I'm with you on this one JFP. Notice how Benjamin is just asking for "more money", "more money"? The bond approach failed last time. Let's look for more pragmatic solutions.


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2007 at 3:06 pm

the city has been through this before. A vocal portion of the community (not necessarily a majority) feels that we need all 5 libraries and they should be maintained no matter what.
this position has already lead to one library director being driven from the city by this vocal minority.
We also know that our city council has no desire to upset any vocal minority, so they will take no action on this matter. Finally this does not involve climate change, so our mayor is not interested in this matter.


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Posted by L&M
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2007 at 3:18 pm

A community the size of Palo Alto shouldn't have a library system with five branches. It would be better served with just 2 branches - the Main and Mitchell Park - offering longer hours. Both libraries should be expanded and upgraded.

Lean & Mean


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2007 at 3:23 pm

We know the libraries are in bad shape. It is run by a city in bad shape. I expect the MP library is closed today because it is hot!!


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Posted by Children's Library Fan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm

I'd save 3 libraries: Main, Mitchell and Children's. I'd sell off the Downtown Library land and use the proceeds to fix those three.


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Posted by consumer
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2007 at 3:43 pm

I have recently been to College Terrace to patronize it because I want to make use of this local resource. First, I was told that I had not returned a book that I absolutely remembered returning (not something I can usually say). Next, I had requested a book from the wiating list, but because of the long wait I checked it out of Los Altos instead. Wanting to free up my space for someone else in lone for it, I tried several times to get off the waiting list, and still found it on "wait" the shelf 2 weeks later -- so no one who was lower on the wait list than I had had a chance to read it.

I don't have this problem at Los Altos library. I think if this is the level of service we are getting at the branch libraries we should think about cutting back on branches, even though the College Terrace library is darling and my children spent many happy afternoons there over the years.


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Posted by Barbara
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 5, 2007 at 3:46 pm

I believe the last library director was run out of town by the "pragmatic" citizens of Palo Alto when she suggested the same thing. Lets vote yes on a bond measure for Mitchell Park and then sort out everything else afterwards.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 5, 2007 at 4:23 pm

What will it cost our citizens if we shrink the library system? I'll bet that not one person except Benjamin has a clue about that.


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 5, 2007 at 5:05 pm

>I believe the last library director was run out of town by the >"pragmatic" citizens of Palo Alto when she suggested the same thing.

I think you'll find the last library directory was run out of town by those who believed that they could have their cake and eat it. Well, the cake certainly looks like it's past its "use by" date now.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 5, 2007 at 5:29 pm

quality, it also looks like our community has spoken loud and clear throgh more than a few polls about what it really wants in a library system. Looks like you're in the minority.


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Posted by long-time resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2007 at 5:49 pm

I agree that Palo Alto libraries have tried to be all things to all people and consequently cost have skyrocketed. Palo Alto needs fewer libraries. Yes, some people will be inconvenieced by having to travel farther, but they will adapt.


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Posted by Bill
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 5, 2007 at 6:23 pm

I love the Mitchell Park Library. Use it for reading books. Just use their excellent on-line
service to order a book, then zip over when notified it's in, and bring it home to read.
To me, that's the essence of excellent library service. Supplying books. .......But in addition,
at Mitchell I get a lovely building, splendidly styled, and friendly personnel. Only drawback
I know of is the air-conditioning system....... But it's otherwise a lovely, lovely library.


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2007 at 6:55 pm

Broccoli--while polls may indicate "loud and clear" what the people of PA want, i suggest we put it to a real vote. The fact that polls indicate what the people want does not mean that we can afford it.
It is clear that Pa cannot, atthis time, afford 5 libraries. yes, i know there have been 5 libraries in PA for years and therefore given the PA mentality that change is bad, these libraries are sacred. unfortunately we do not have the resources to support 5 libraries--look at Mountain View with a beautiful big library.
Will there be change--i doubt it, the last director proposed it and was vilified by the "we are entitled to 5 libraries period" crowd. the city council will certainly not touch the issue with a 10 foot poll--they are scared of conflict.
unless there is a concrete plan to close some libraries, i plan to vote against any library bond issue and will encourage everyone else to do the same.


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Posted by In Favor of the Branch Libraries
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 5, 2007 at 7:10 pm

I suggest we follow the city auditor's suggestions for saving money including making better use of staff and that we also continue our branch library system. For children, the elderly, the handicapped and those needing walkable neighborhood services, a branch library system is ideal. We have the libraries, we need to supply the funding they need gradually over time. Because of our shortage of water, smaller buildings which have been part of our water usage for many years and which will not need a lot of water if a fire should start seem more prudent.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2007 at 7:13 pm

I've never been polled and am just your "average" citizen with 3 kids. Two well-organized, updated libraries sounds excellent to me. The bond cost to update the five libraries just seemed rather exorbitant to me.

I've heard Mt. View has an excellent library. My neighbor (in PA) takes her son to that library on a regular basis. Too bad we can't have a similar situation here. I just don't think this city is so large that a library couldn't be reached without difficulty by bike from just about anywhere.

I think it's time for a change.




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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 5, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Not So Fast, You're running on empty - - - ideas.

Of course, some small minority of "why should I spend my moeny to improve the communtiy" voters will always be there. We'll deal with that.

btw, how long have you lived in Palo Alto?


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Posted by Parent - Reader
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2007 at 7:26 pm

The same old arguments.

Children, all PAUSD elementary schools have excellent libraries. My children get what they need there during the school year. We can ride a bike or get to the library as part of errands. My children do not need a branch library, it is a luxury.

The elderly, need to stop driving if they have to, but they are unlikely to walk more than a block to a library if they can't drive. They need a good public transport system (rte 88, the shuttle) to get them to the library. Alternatively, we need to be neighborly and offer rides to our elderly neighbors and let them be part of our lives. There is plenty of things they can do in return if it has to be done that way. The elderly do not need a branch library, it is a luxury.

The handicapped, if they are unable to walk more than a block or unable to drive are not likely to be in walking (or wheelchair)distance of a neighborhood library at present, so once again a good transport system or neighbors, can help them out. The handicapped to do not need a branch library, it is a luxury.

Those needing a walkable neighborhood, also need a good bus route or shuttle, or neighbors. It is unlikely they are that close to a neighborhood library at present. They do not need a branch library, it is a luxury.

As most people cannot understand the difference between need and want, we must define the difference. I do not need $1m, but I do want $1m. I can't have everything I want.

We do not need 5 libraries although we may want them. We do need money to improve a couple of those we have so the ideal would be to rent out the premises to get the money to pay for the upgrades.

And please note, I said rent not sell the present buildings. Do not do the same as the school board did. We may need the premises sometime in the future for things we are not even aware of. These city properties should remain city properties for our future legacy to those yet to come.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Broccoli - if you are asking me how long I've lived here - it's been 42 years so far - most of my life. Went through the palo alto school system; graduated from Gunn in the 70's. But I'm sure there are those who have lived here shorter and longer who want branch libraries to stay. I'm just one of the long-time residents who would be very happy with 2 stellar libraries.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 12:47 am

I'm with you, "not so fast." As long as the city insists on keeping five libraries, I will vote NO on the bond. Council made an emotional, not a fiscal decision to keep all branches open.


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Posted by Library user
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Jul 6, 2007 at 1:44 am

Looks as though you haven't read the Auditor's report, only the newspaper story.
The criticism of staff inefficiency is really something, even though it is written gently. The report says that if staff was scheduled better (for example, fewer hours when the libraries are closed) the branches could have longer open hours.
And they have 9 people working on schedules! and it isn't done on the computer!! It boggles the mind.
Read the report, don't just repeat your prior prejudices.


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Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2007 at 3:00 am

i agree with the folks who say 2 good libraries are better than 5 lousy ones........


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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 5:31 am

The Mitchell Park Library was obsolete in 1985 when I moved to Palo Alto. I would take my two children there and it was filled with kids after school from Fairmeadow and JLS. There was not enough room for them to sit or study or even browse for books. The situation has only gotten worse over the years with increasing school enrollment. Yet south Palo Alto continues to suffer with a small, cramped facility. The Sunnyvale Library, where we previously lived, was far superior even if we had to drive to it. Drive! Is that the word that scares everybody??? Well, guess what ? We are already driving to the Mountain View, Los Altos and Menlo Park libraries. Enlarge, remodel Mitchell Park and think of all the gas Palo Altans will save.


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2007 at 6:08 am

Broccoli--I have live in PA for 12+ years.
I think we need two libraries at most--however given the wy thing work in this town and the inability of the City Council to act in a manner that is best for the city (as opposed to what is best for the vocal minority) I think we are stuck with 5 libraries.
Vote no on the library bond measure.


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2007 at 9:15 am

It is true that Palo Alto polls showed that PA residents wanted the branch library system. It's also true that the previous bond votes on this issue have shown that PA residents weren't willing to pay for a branch system.

There's a severe disconnect between what people want and what they're willing to pay for. The Mitchell Park bond is trying to get around this by ducking the broader question and trying to create a narrow focus on at just getting one library updated. It remains to be seen whether this sleight of hand will work.


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Posted by Native Palo Altan
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 6, 2007 at 9:41 am

Please don't forget that the Children's Library is currently going a renovation and expansion funded by a public/private partership and has a strong and capable friends group who raised the money for said renovation/expansion.

If Palo Alto does move to reduce the number of libaries it seems to me unlikely that the Children's Libary will be closed.

Myself and many others have said for years that 3 libraries (Main, Mitchell and Children's) is the via media or middle way for Palo Alto.



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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 10:35 am

q not q, you say "It is true that Palo Alto polls showed that PA residents wanted the branch library system. It's also true that the previous bond votes on this issue have shown that PA residents weren't willing to pay for a branch system."

The latter part of your statement is not quite accurate. Well over 60% voted for an improved system a few years ago, but the vote fell short because of the innane requirement that bond measures require 66.67% approval - a very high bar. So, what' we've had here regarding libraries (and some other things) is legislation by the minority. That won't happen again.


Library user, don't you just love it when someone takes one negative finding and makes a general conclusion from that? That's what you've done. Why not note that the audit suggests bolstering staff so that it can properly attend to all the responsibilities that librarians have, including staff for grant writing?

I read somewhere that every dollar we provide for our libraries results in a more than one dollar payback - that's a great investment!


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Posted by Forum Reader
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:14 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:18 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:20 am

Two decent libraries (with air conditioning, please) is the way to go, and it seems as though everyone posting here agrees. But where were you people when a (competent, decent, professional) library director was being run out of town by the "Friends" of the Library and others who want to get their own way at the expense of everyone else in town? The city has paid for report after report on the libraries and they all say the same thing about the branches, but we can't seem to get around this bunch of old obstructionists. Meantime, our librarians are disillusioned and being run ragged.

Incidentally the auditor highlighted the loan of laptops as being a high-risk thing that takes a lot of staff time to administer. It should be noted that that program was *forced* on the library by the Friends, which commonly gives the library money only if they can micromanage exactly what it is used for.


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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:23 am

I forgot to mention that for those who could not get to two libraries (funny how people in *other* towns are able to get around but Palo Altans can't) there is already an Operation Homebound book delivery service. Plus, a bookmobile, if really necessary, could be run at much lower cost than keeping a branch open.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:32 am

Funny how the carbon load in those *other* towns is greater than ours, because people have to drive to their library - and, how people in those *other* towns don't have the ability to use neighborhood libraries as cultural centers (which they're quickly evolving to).


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Posted by heavylibraryuser
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:43 am

When I first moved to the area, I lived in temporary housing in Menlo Park, and one of the first things I did was get a library card for the MP library. I later moved to the Palo Alto/Stanford area and picked up a card for the PA library system. The difference between the two systems is amazing. I tried my best with several of the PA branches but gave up after a while and continue to use the far better MP library. How can these seemingly similar communities offer such different quality? Did MP have a bond? Is it the two vs. five branch issue? Something has got to change for PA libraries - not sure what...


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:57 am

"I read somewhere that every dollar we provide for our libraries results in a more than one dollar payback - that's a great investment!"

The last time this statement came out I actually asked at the Main library to try and find out the details. I couldn't find any reference to this quote there and nor could the library assistants.

Can you paste a link to this study?


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 12:20 pm

q not q, here's a start:
Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


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Posted by Forum Reader
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 6, 2007 at 2:36 pm

The last link is particularly interesting. The Urban Libraries study says this about BRANCHES:

"The study concludes that public libraries are positioned to fuel not only new, but next economies because of their roles in building technology skills, entrepreneurial activity, and vibrant, livable places. The combination of stronger roles in economic development strategies and their prevalence -- 16,000 branches in more than 9,000 systems -- make public libraries stable and powerful tools for cities seeking to attract and build new businesses. "

BRANCHES make public libraries stable and powerful tools. etc.


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Posted by In Favor of Branch Libraries
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 6, 2007 at 3:09 pm

Because some people like the Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale library systems (no branch libraries), Palo Alto shouldn't have branch libraries? Many U.S. cities support branch libraries, Palo Alto used to support branch libraries with adequate funding. Parent-Reader, the same old arguments are the reason many cities continue to support branch libraries - they are open during non-school hours, it is good for the elderly and handicapped to be independent, it is good for all of us to walk.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 4:09 pm

I believe libraries are essential to our citizens and our democracy. I would vote for the bond to finance the Mitchell Park library -- and community center -- in a hot second, IF we closed the other branches (except for Children's).

The audit says that operating a branch system "is ultimately a community and policy choice." There's plenty of debate about whether the majority of residents want the branches to remain open. Whether true or not, someone in the city has to take fiscal responsibility for that decision.

A survey asking people what they want is pointless unless they're willing to pay for it. Years ago a technology company I worked for ran focus groups for a new product. Everyone who saw the product loved it and wanted it. Problem was, no one asked them if they loved it enough to pay $10,000 for it. When the product launched, it was a disaster.

In order to have made the decision to keep all our existing libraries, the city's finance committee, the city council, and/or the LAC should have done a financial analysis to show how much money the current system costs and whether we can afford it to keep it and upgrade it. As a comparison, someone should have also done an analysis of what a single great library would cost. If such analyses exist, I would very much like to see them.

I've been trying to find out the cost of the branches, but there seems to be no way to get detailed information. Here's what I did find:

Adopted budget for each branch:
Main $1,723,973
Children's $682,563 (from Sept. 07 when it reopens)
Mitchell Park $1,290,806
College Terrace $256,846
Downtown $252,205

I'm told that the largest expenditures in the budget are salaries and collections. That's good to know, but I'm interested in specifics.

According to the online org chart for the library, we have 43.75 FTEs plus 12.7 hourly. I assume that some of the staff time under the org chart headings "Library," "Administration," and "Collection & Technical Services" are allocated to the various branches. I would like to see FTE and hourly broken out, showing salaries, benefits and pensions. And I'd like to know how many employees we could do without if we had only one library (plus Children's).

Collections are not budgeted by branch because they serve all the libraries. If we only had one library, how would the collections change? Would we need more or fewer materials?

Building maintenance comes from the Public Works budget. I'd like to know what it costs for utilities and maintenance of each branch.

What about IT and administrative services? Would they decrease if we closed the branches? Or would they increase because a great modern library would offer more services?

How about opportunity costs? If we closed three branches, what could we do with those properties?

Bottom line: A division manager or department manager would have ALL the information on ALL the costs of running his/her piece of the business. In the case of our library system, that means a line-by-line spreadsheet of costs for each branch. Does anyone have such a spreadsheet? If so, where can I find it?

The LAC recommended adding 28 hours of service across the system at a cost of approximately $115K/year. (As we know, the construction bond can't be used for operating expenses.)

Where will that money come from? I assume the information exists somewhere, since it would be irresponsible to propose a bond measure for facilities without having a source for operating expenses.

Is there a "Plan B" if the library bond does not pass? Your audit presents many problems that need to be fixed, so it seems a backup strategy should be in place.

Council will spend $70-$80K (of our money) to convince us to vote for the library bond, yet makes it difficult to determine the cost of our current system. Having made an emotional "policy choice," Council may not want residents to further examine options to close branches. But I would like to know where my tax dollars are being spent.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 4:41 pm

pat, Wishful thinking. The branches are going to remain open, and we're going to build Mitchell along with repairing years of neglected infrastructure work elsewhere - including a bolstering of collections and staff. Why? Because we're Palo Alto; we're proud; we know our libraries contribute to academic success; and, we're a visionary comunity.

There is no debate about whether residents want the branch system - polls clearly show that they do. And, our residents will gladly pony up a few bucks per household to keep our fantastic public library in tip-top shape, comparable with surrounding communities.

btw, nobody is asking any resident to pay $10K - yours is an apples and oranges example.

Our library infrastructure has been analyzed to a faretheewell. We need action, not analysis. Read the exhaustive reports and follow-ups, including polls, and _including_ the po0lls that say Palo Altans want what our LAC and City Council so far agree on.

btw, thanks for listing the investment we citizens of Palo Alto make in our branches. As you know, very good studies indicate that every dollar we invest pays back a benefit equal to $1.30-$4.50+ per dollar invested.

Let's hypothesize that a community spends "x" dollars for its library. Multiply that number by 1.30-4.50 to arrive at a true benefit array. What a deal!! Show me another municipal investment that pays back like that.

I hope you complete your computation ofo total investment, so that we can compute the real benefits ofo library service to our community. Thanks for your public service.


Council will spend $70-$80K (of our money) to convince us to vote for the library bond, yet makes it difficult to determine the cost of our current system. Having made an emotional "policy choice," Council may not want residents to further examine options to close branches. But I would like to know where my tax dollars are being spent.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 4:45 pm

oops! - please DISREGARD the last paragraph of my last post

I neglected to erase the last (erroneous) paragraph of pat's post, where he claims that Council made an "emotional policy choice" in its support for libraries.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Re library studies:

- From the Ohio library study at Web Link

"Nine public libraries in Southwest Ohio spent $74.4 million in 2005 on library operations. These expenditures included amounts for materials, database services, salaries, and other costs of operations at all main and branch libraries.

"Library patrons received direct benefits from library services during the same period of about $190.4 million. Therefore, for every dollar expended on library operations, the public received about $2.56 in directly quantifiable benefits."

Please note that taxpayers spent $74.4 million on library operations. The benefit to LIBRARY PATRONS was calculated by figuring out how much they would have paid to purchase books, DVDs, etc. if they were not able to get these materials free from the library.

This does NOT mean that $190.4 million went back into the general fund. In other words, it's not a return on investment as one would calculate in a business.

The St. Louis study provides similar information.

I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with this. It's just important to read the studies carefully and understand exactly what benefits they are touting.


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Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 4:54 pm

Broccoli,

I think you are the one indulging in wishful thinking. I'm pretty sure you are right the branches will stay open, but I'm just as sure the library bond won't pass. The most likely case is that Palo Alto continues to have an inferior library system, because the community is not willing to either fund the library system enough to have five decent libraries or cut the number of libraries to match the funding.


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Posted by quantity not quality
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2007 at 5:37 pm

"As you know, very good studies indicate that every dollar we invest pays back a benefit equal to $1.30-$4.50+ per dollar invested."

Actually, no, the studies say that for every dollar that *has been spent* they can identify up to $10 in benefits. That doesn't mean that for every additional dollar that *will be* spent there is a corresponding increase in benefit. The results of the studies actually indicate that if you spend less then the benefit gain (percentage wise) will be more. This is due to the base cost already been offset.

I couldn't find anywhere in the studies that stated that if you spent Y in additional dollars you would gain XxY in additional benefits.

Happy to be proved wrong of course.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2007 at 6:12 pm

pat says (about return on library investment) " it's not a return on investment as one would calculate in a business."

Wrong. In fact, corporations all over the world calculate ROI line items like "good will", which often derive from benefit arrays.

The bottom line is that there is a positive benefit return to taxpayers who invest in libraries. Trying to make a benefit look like bad is rather disingenuous, don't you think, pat.

Q not Q, It made me chuckle when you claimed that the studies, which prove a positive benefit return, aren't guaranteed to do that in the future. Thus, you're asking for a negative proof, which is impossible to answer. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The FACT is that there are POSITIVE community and fiscal benefits shown for library investment. the data and numbers are there.

I want to see YOUR data disproving this work, rather than the application of poor fiscal modeling and bogus logic (proving a negative, you should know better) Where is your data?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

JFP, the bond will pass, because we are going to do a grass roots campaign like you've never seen here before. Citizens are going to hear FACTS, and they're going to hearthem in a language that they understand.

In all, it really upsets library naysayers that libraries are every bit as valuable as we've always thought they were, but even pay back positive benefits to taxpayers.

I'm still waiting for all those who don't agree with 23 STUDIES showing the same thing to come up with data that shows otherwise. They can't, and won't. What they;ll attempt to do is spin this great new information into a negative. It won't work this time.


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Posted by cauliflower
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jul 6, 2007 at 6:54 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm

In order to investigate the benefit claims put forth by various people over the last year, I contacted the St. Louis library and obtained a print copy of the full library study. The benefits presented in that document are as I stated in my earlier post: benefits – based on the purchase price of materials borrowed – accrue to library users. I don't think anyone would disagree with that.

Broccoli's arguments are EXACTLY those emailed to me earlier this year by someone on our Library Commission.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 7:59 pm

For those interested, the proposed library budget is at:
Web Link

Information by branch is not available because the city keeps budget and cost information by line item and by division (e.g. salaries, supplies) rather than by location.

From the audit, an example of how multiple branches cost more than one library: Santa Clara has 11 employees staffing customer service desks in its 80,000 sq ft facility. Palo Alto has 14 employees for customer service desks in a total of 51,000 sq ft.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 7, 2007 at 12:40 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

There is no getting around the FACT that *23* municipal studies ALL showed that "NO LESS THAN 23 WELL-DESIGNED STUDIES HAVE CLEARLY SHOWN THAT PUBLIC LIBRARIES PAY BACK A PROFIT TO MUNICIPALITIES, BASED ON REAL BENEFITS RECEIVED FOR TAX DOLLARS SPENT".

Let's see your data to the contrary.

Yes, pat, multiple branches cost more than a single library. but they deliver more community and fiscal benefits than a single library, too.






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Posted by Robin
a resident of University South
on Jul 7, 2007 at 8:38 am

I'd love to see our libraries add the LINK+ system which allows books not owned by the library to be borrowed from neighboring libraries. Several other local public libraries have this service and though I don't know the cost, it seems that it would give Palo Alto library patrons access to a much larger collection without the issues of space, use, etc. to need to be worked out.


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Posted by Reader
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2007 at 9:52 am

I have no idea what the system was called, but a while ago there was a book I wanted to borrow. The library staff found it for me in, I think, a San Francisco library. They obtained it for me for a small fee within a short space of time. I was particularly grateful as this book was a childhood favorite that I wanted to share with my children, it was out of print and not available at any of the online booksellers. This service was simple and needs to be utilised more often.

Older and less popular books should be available from other libraries without one library system (4 or 5 in Palo Alto) expected to hold a copy at each branch, a good system should be able to get books for you from not only local libraries, but libraries all over the state or even the country. A fee for doing this is not unreasonable.

So I don't know much about the link system spoken about, but there does seem to be something similar, you just have to ask for help.


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Posted by Wanna know
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2007 at 10:11 am

Robin, could you explain further about Link plus but start another thread?
This thread has become unreadable.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 7, 2007 at 10:24 am

Wanna, Google up Link+ Palo Alto and you'll find links explaining it. It is an inter-library search/loan system that many around here belong to.

It is doubtlessly a useful thing, though I believe most libraries with these systems find they end up counting for only a very small percentage of circulation - so not really a substitute for expanding on-site collection.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2007 at 10:39 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Here's my data from the St. Louis Library Study, which, as I mentioned, I obtained from the St. Louis Library.

The study calculates benefits by adding all individual library service benefits, e.g., books for adults are used by 81% of the patrons, cost of a book is estimated, multiplied by # of users, which equates to a minimum of $484 per household. The sum of all library services provided to all patrons (books, CDs, computer use, etc.) comes out to $412m.

Benefit/Operating Budget = ROI
$485m/$46m = 1.036% (I've rounded the numbers)

What should be noted here is that "Benefits" is defined as benefits to library USERS, not to the general public or investors (taxpayers in this case).

I googled ROI and noted that the business definition uses earnings while the government definition uses benefits.

- return on invested capital: (corporate finance) the amount, expressed as a percentage, that is earned on a company's total capital calculated by dividing the total capital into EARNINGS before interest, taxes, or dividends are paid www.wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

- A figure of merit used to help make capital investment decisions. ROI is calculated by considering the annual BENEFIT divided by the investment amount.
www.gao.gov/policy/itguide/glossary.htm

In the library calculation, there is no real RETURN, just a shift in COST from a small group of people (library patrons) to the general tax paying public. There are no real dollars generated, just an illusion of savings.

If the library charged the same for the videos (for instance) as Blockbuster, would people choose to rent at the library rather than Blockbuster? If so, that would be an example of real "return." But the dollars calculated in this study are not real "returned" dollars -- they are illusory "not spent" dollars.

What I object to in these discussions is the mixed and undefined terminology used when making claims. When one shouts "THAT PUBLIC LIBRARIES PAY BACK A PROFIT TO MUNICIPALITIES, BASED ON REAL BENEFITS RECEIVED FOR TAX DOLLARS SPENT," one should be very clear about the definition of "profit" when referring to tax dollars spent.

Coincidentally, Sanford Forte of the LAC, in his guest opinion in the Weekly on 1/10/07
Web Link
says, "no less than 23 well-designed studies have clearly shown that public libraries actually pay back a profit to municipalities, based on real benefits received for tax dollars spent."

PLEASE NOTE: I absolutely agree that there are huge benefits to the community at large – as well as to patrons – from libraries! I believe in libraries. They're essential to learning and democracy.

It's good to be passionate about one's beliefs, but decisions should be made not on beliefs and wishful thinking, but on facts and data, especially when one is spending the taxpayers' money.



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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 8, 2007 at 8:40 am

Broccoli,

Asked to prove a negative? I don't think so. I'm asking you to show me where the additional benefits will come from given additional funds being spent. Where is the "proving the negative" in this? Also, the onus is on you to prove the benefits will materialize not for anyone else to show they want. Simply pointing to study validating existing budgets is not enough.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Mary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 8, 2007 at 2:11 pm

The preliminary estimate of the cost of the library bond increase in property taxes per parcel was $20 per $100,000 of 'assessed valuation'. For a home recently purchased for $1.5M, that would be $300 more in taxes for $40M bond issue. Same is true for the Public Safety Building estimated at another $50M. Don't know if the PAUAD is proposing 3/4 billion bond issue or a parcel tax. Maybe a reader who knows more about this can clarify. Check your latest assessed valuation from the County Assessor's office and do the math. I intend to vote for the library bond issue. But I wonder if the $50M for the public safety bldg. is a little 'pricey'.


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Posted by Lily
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2007 at 2:59 pm

I work in Palo Alto but live in Santa Clara. I have often wondered why PA does not have a better library system. In the past few years we built a beautiful library in Santa Clara. It is on Central Park, two stories high with an underground parking garage. It is well-used and well-loved. There are so many wonderful features: a cafe, Friends of the Library bookstore, community meeting rooms, quiet study rooms, a genealogy section, senior services, a children's garden, internet access, etc. The building faces the park and upstairs rooms with their large windows are particularly welcoming. There is delightful and beautiful artwork throughout. The library was built on time and under budget. It is one of the top libraries in the country for a city its size. I believe that with all of the talent in PA, the library problem can be solved. Frankly, speaking from 25+ years of working in your city, I find the "Palo Alto Process" overly time-consuming, paralyzing at times, and often unproductive.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 8, 2007 at 5:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2007 at 6:11 am

I'm with all those people who say two good libraries are better than five inferior branch libraries. However, it won't happen because Council hasn't got the stomach to even threaten to close two branch libraries. So, what's the answer, well, my answer will be to vote against any bond measure for libraries. Close the two branch libraries first, then ask the residents for a bond measure to upgrade main and Mitchell.


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Posted by Sally L
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:24 am

Gee, I don't see what all the fuss is about. If Libraries really are really the great investment that proponents say the 23 studies report, the pay for themselves and throw off enough extra money to fix the streets and give all our hard working employees a raise - just using the money we're spending on them now.

I mean, we're spending northwards of $5 million/year for libraries now under almost any reasonable estimate of the budget figures. We should be getting $20 million return/year on it according to those 23 studies. We can use that to pay for that new branch they want in 3 or 4 years, and then this great profit can be paid back into the treasury to pay for our infrastructure needs, etc after that.


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:42 am

Broccoli,

Basically, when asked for proof of your statement on where this additional benefit will come for Palo Alto, all you've done is google a few study and you really want Palo Alto residents to release $40M in funds to you based on that?! You can't show what benefits Palo Alto residents will receive from these additional funds! When asked for this you accuse those "you're asking me to prove a negative". This is very sad.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:49 am

Sally, to help you understand: library investment benefits accrue to taxpayers as quantified benefits, not direct cash payments. Why would you want your fellow citizens to do without benefits that acrue from libraries?

Sounds like you're making the broad claim that unless a public service can deliver back a cash profit back to the city, it shouldn't be funded - with the result that police, library, education, and other vital services would disappear.

The position you support, with the resultant failure of past bond efforts, have begun to add to the premature decay of a number of city institutions.






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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:58 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 9:00 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 9:16 am

Broccoli and Q -

I am sure you are both very smart people and obviously care about our town and libraries. So why trade public insults? It doesn't move the issue along and discourages others from being part of the discussion. Let's all be the bigger person and let it go.

A question I asked before I would love to hear both your views on - could we turn our libraries over to the Santa Clara County Library system and have them run them? I don't understand how City and County libraries interact and what limits there are (if any) on what each can do. But I do know that SC County Libraries are top rated in the nation (and excellent in my experience) while ours are decrepit and, per our Auditor's report, not very well managed. So we have a tough situation - who wants to pour money into a badly managed system? Meanwhile, it is hard to improve operations (recruit key staff, upgrade systems, etc.) without a commitment to spending. A way out would be to give our floundering assets to the excellent management team at SCC; we lose some or all control, but frankly I am not sure we have that much to lose at this point. Perhaps we could fund the assets (buildings, collection) and they could operate?

What do you think, smart people?

Fred


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2007 at 10:04 am

Fred, I like your idea! It makes a lot of sense. I too wonder about spending.

If the bond passes, where will the money for computers, furniture, additional collections, etc. come from? (As we know, the construction bond can't be used for operating expenses.)

If the bond does not pass, what's the contingency plan?


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 11:19 am

Fred,

You're wrong. Where does the auditors's report say that the library system is badly managed? Where did the auditor's report conclude that as a general finding?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Palo Altans _value_ their public library, _with branches_ That has been clearly demonstrated in poll after poll, and during the last bond measure, which had well over 60% of Palo Altans voting FOR the present system.

Yes, the SCC library system is an excellent system, and run well. However, giving over our system over to the County would probably mean the death of Palo Alto's branch library system. Surely, the branches would disappear. Also, where would that leave our heralded and much loved Children's Library.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 12:02 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 12:13 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2007 at 12:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Sally L.
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 12:37 pm

The statement that $40MM spending on libraries will provide $180MM in benefits for the city is conceptually different from a prediction based on past experience that the sun will come up tomorrow. The former statement is capable of being supported by facts, the other is not.

To confuse this (while steadfastly refusing to supply such supporting facts) is itself evidence of an incapacity for logical thought that makes this entire discussion border on the farcical.


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Posted by Threads
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2007 at 12:48 pm

Assuming, arguendo, that it is true that public libraries provide a benefit above their cost, it is not necessarily true that

(a) libraries are somehow exempt from the law of diminishing returns, and that on the margin there will be increased benefits for every dollar spent; or that

(b) branch libraries provide any financial benefit over main libraries.

At this time I would vote no on a library bond issue, but would happily support a reasonable bond that provides for renovation of Mitchell Park and Main library.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 1:11 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Threads,

First, the law of diminishing returns does not apply to libraries, especially when one takes into consideration the multipliers resulting from human interaction with libraries.

The outputs of library systems are the people that use and benefit from the library system.

Please explain how returns to individuals as benefits are decreased over time as citizens use libraries.

Second, branch libraries provide many economic and social benefits over main libraries, the foremost of which is increase in availability and access.

A study quoted above nicely makes the point - from Forum Reader, above:

"The Urban Libraries study says this about BRANCHES:

"The study concludes that public libraries are positioned to fuel not only new, but next economies because of their roles in building technology skills, entrepreneurial activity, and vibrant, livable places. The combination of stronger roles in economic development strategies and their prevalence -- 16,000 branches in more than 9,000 systems -- make public libraries stable and powerful tools for cities seeking to attract and build new businesses. "

BRANCHES make public libraries stable and powerful tools. etc."


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Posted by Davey
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 9, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Let's see: 1. $4.50 return per dollar invested in libraries, and 2. No diminishing returns to spending on libraries.....

Hmmm...Why are we limiting ourselves to a measly $40 million on libraries? We also ought to sink the entire city budget of $140 million into the library system, sell the city owned utilities for $1Billion more and spend that on libraries, then tax ourselves another $20K per resident (after all..we get that $4.50 per dollar spent) for another $1 Billion or so - for even more libraries. All told, I bet we can come up with around $2.5 Billion to invest in libraries....giving us a return of around $11 Billion or a cool $200,000 per resident.

What are we waiting for?! I got a guy who wants to sell me a bridge in Brooklyn for my share of the profit.


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Posted by bystander
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Davey,

Brilliant :->

This thread delivers.


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Posted by Threads
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Your data tells me nothing about the specific contribution of branch libraries, and your oft-repeated quote is a general reference to library systems in general.

For what it does say, your quote refers to "16,000 branches in more than 9,000 systems". That makes - wait, don't tell me, less than 2 branches per system.

No one is saying cut off all the branches - it makes sense to keep Main, Mitchell and Childrens, leaving 3 branches in Palo Alto.

The two smaller branch libraries are convenient for a very small percentage of the population, particularly College Terrace which is a charming building but serves only a tiny number of people. They should be shut down so that the larger branches can be better maintained.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 3:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 4:02 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Threads
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2007 at 4:44 pm

And do you have data that suggests there is wide use of the College Terrace branch? I have reviewed the library audit and don't see the information is there. How many people DO actually use that branch? Do they drive from the far ends of town to get there?

Perhaps it could be converted to a few classrooms for language immersion?


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 4:51 pm

Broccoli, it must be hard putting up with us! None of us can get our facts straight. I hope I can be so right so often on something.

I would love to see better libraries in PA; I am a big supporter. But Broc makes me just want to go to the SCC library in Los Altos.

I expect, as has been the case in other towns, that over time a new library will get built; a budget crunch will hit; and sub-scale branches will close. But a nice new library will have to come first.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by MH
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2007 at 4:55 pm

Yeah! Broccoli!

As I recall, an informal survey taken by a College Terrace Residents Assn. poll showed that roughly 30% of users were from outside CT. I think that number is corroborated in the larger library study. It's a pretty well-known fact that all our library use is not limited just to residents from surrounding neighborhoods.


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Posted by Threads
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:03 pm

Thank you Fred.

You have a nice way of putting things.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:03 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Naysayer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Please provide cites to each of these "23 well-designed studies" so that they can be reviewed.


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Posted by Naysayer Slayer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Naysayer, there are links provided above to the first study (ST. Louis), and a few follow up studies. Go through those, and follow your boolean search to the others (you know, Google). If you're having trouble with that, you might try calling a reference librarian for information, or visiting one of your local branch libraries. There is also another thread on this forum, replete with links. If you have the time to read them with a clear, open mind, you will soon joinn my ranks.



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Posted by Naysayer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:26 pm

According to the St Louis study:

"First, the SLPL Services Valuation Study is no longed-for "magic bullet" providing some simplistic formulation that other libraries can pick up and apply simply without thought to derive the benefits of investment in another library system."


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:30 pm

Broccoli,

I thought we'd got over this. You have yet to identify a single dollar in additional benefits for Palo Alto - let alone $180M. Yet you want Palo Alto to spend $40M and want other people to prove why they shouldn't give it to you?!
This is an incredible position to take, it's like fund raising in reverse.


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 6:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]



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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:02 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Broc, you make me sad about politics and debate in PA, despite the fact that I am a big supporter of libraries. I hope we can be more civil and constructive as a community. Good luck.


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Posted by Book Lover
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2007 at 8:55 pm

Value of a library is calculated at:

Web Link


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Posted by Broccoli
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2007 at 10:11 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by quality not quantity
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2007 at 10:58 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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