Palo Alto Libraries

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[edit] Palo Alto City Library Branches

Mitchell Park Library

Children's Library

Downtown Library

College Terrace Library

Main Library

[edit] History

Very early on in city's history did the citizens of Palo Alto push for a public library. The main advocates of the plan were the members of the Palo Alto Women's Club, and thought of the idea for a public library two years after the club had formed. The members of the club started to fully endorse the idea of a public library even before there was an available building to house the books. Undeterred by lack of land and support, the women held book socials in which people would come with books to donate of sell. The first event was so successful, that by the end of it, there were 200 books that were donated from private collections.
YMCA reading room
YMCA reading room

H.W. Simkins, a bookseller donated space to house the books on the shelves of his store creating what would essentially be, Palo Alto's first library. Members of the club would take turns to act as librarians throughout the day to help with the makeshift library. By 1899, the collection of books had reached 1115 volumes and included many classics and complete editions. The temporary headquarters for the library was then set up in the reading room of the YMCA (that was located on High Street and University). Yet the women, were not satisfied with the fact that the books had still not been given a permanent home.

In 1903, they decided to ask for a grant from the Carnegie foundation to establish a permanent library. The women were quickly able to raise the necessary amount of money and the full amount of matching funds was secured, so that on November 1, 1904 Palo Alto's very first official Library was opened on Hamilton Street, where City Hall now stands.

[edit] Timeline

[edit] 1904

The first library, the Carnegie branch, was opened where City Hall currently stands.

[edit] 1925

The second branch in Palo opened after a request from residents of Mayfield who had been annexed into the city and could no longer use the county branch.

[edit] 1936

The Mayfield branch Library was relocated to 2300 Wellesley Street and later renamed the South Palo Alto Library.

[edit] 1940

The Children's Library was donated to the city of Palo Alto from influential resident Lucie Stern.

[edit] 1958

On July 19, both the Main and Mitchell Park Libraries opened due to a bond issue of $700,000 approved of two years prior. The South Palo Alto Library was renamed the College Terrace Library.

[edit] 1968

The Carnegie branch was renamed the Downtown Library and was relocated to 420 Ramona Street.

[edit] 1969

City Manager George Morgan advised closing the College Terrace branch, claiming that it was too small and its location too secluded for it to be an efficient facility. The library however, reamined open.

[edit] 1971

The Downtown Library was moved to 270 Forest Ave. where it currently stands.

[edit] 1978

Palo Alto was facing a huge budget deficit due to a recently passed Proposition 13, which reduced the city's property tax revenue. In a plan to save $264,000, the City manager and former library director, June Flemming, recommended closing the College Terrace and Children's Libraries. This suggestion however, was opposed by many residents including the City Mayor at the time, Scott Carey

[edit] 1985

The Terman Park Library was opened.

[edit] 2002

When the School District reopened the Middle School that housed the branch, the city ended up having to close the library.

[edit] Debate Over Library Branch System

Although Palo Alto was able to set up a library system very quickly, it has struggled for years to resolve the ongoing dispute about the Library branch system. Spurred on in 1969 when George Morgan, the City Manager recommended closing the College Terrace Branch, due to its low book circulation, the issue has spanned close to four decades on whether Palo Alto should have such an extensively branching system. Residents have always found themselves split on the issue. Some say that although, the Libraries themselves need updating, the sytem should remain as is, while others, are in favor of centralizing the system so that there are only two major libraries with many resources, rather than five libraries with the resources spread between them.

Residents argue that a centralized system would allow for less money to be wasted on keeping small libraries open, instead focus on refurbishing the bigger libraries, which many residents believe are in a deplorable state as compared to the libraries in neighboring cities. In fact many Palo Alto Libraries have had to cut down on staffing and library hours, since money has to be divided between all five branches. Yet there are many residents who voice disapproval at such an idea. To them, the beauty of Palo Alto's Library system is that almost everyone is a short bike ride away from a library, and centralizing the system would greatly inconvenience the majority of the population. The majority of both sides, however agreed that the Palo Alto Libraries needed refubishing.

In 2004, after much debate, a bond measure was created that would rennovate the Mitchell Park Library Branch as well as its neighboring community center. The measure however, fell just shy of the necessary 2/3 vote, and Mitchell Park Library remained as is. In 2006, the city conducted a residential survey concerning the publics's opinion on the library sytem. According to the results, 56 percent of the responderssaid having the library's collections divided among multiple branches was either somewhat important or very important. 42 percent said that having library collections and services based in a single larger branch, limited collections in the smaller branches was important. Yet two- thirds of the responders said they would like homework centers and full staff in multiple locations. The survey although making clear in waht exactly the community was divided on, does not help encourage any future proposals. All through out 2006, the library debate made no progress as to fiding a solutions to the library problem.

Finally in early July, 2007, an audit was created listing 32 specific problems of the library system and bringing light to the inefficiencies and money waste such as understaffing during the busiest hours, and no common scheduling between the different branches. Another problem is the poor "hold" system. The audit recommends that these and other inefficiencies should be fixed before the community moves on to more far- reaching decisions concerning the libraries.

[edit] External Links

[edit] References

[edit] Book Refernces

History of Palo Alto; The Early Years by Pamela Gullard and Nancy Lund

[edit] Internet Sources

The City of Palo Alto Website (

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