This guest post was written by Sean Sullivan, an active Oakland resident who lives in the Clawson/Dogtown neighborhood where he is co-chair of his NCPC and represents the 3rd district on the Community Action Partnership and Community Development Block Grant board. Sean was a director at Covenant House for over a decade, is now involved in the fight for marriage equality and does nonprofit consulting.
Our City Council is in the midst of reviewing the awful budget they have to deal with and start deciding on some of the cuts they must implement. Once again we will hear ad nauseum about how we will “all have to share the pain.” With such a limited general fund, those items on the chopping block are easily predictable. Something will have to be done, everyone, meaning every department, will have to feel some pain. That does not mean however that all budgets and departments have to feel the same amount of pain. Twenty percent across the board to some departments is manageable while to others it is a body blow and still to others it would decimate any practical impact they could have whatsoever. There are times when this equalizing practice actually hurts the city as a whole. Times like the one we are in now magnify that even more so. Such is the case with our libraries.
The current plan is to take an across the board cut to all our libraries in cutting hours and services and also close our libraries on the weekends. This might seem fair but is actually an unfortunate presentation of reality. Going about cutting in this matter actually belies a lot of the problems with our city. Decisions are made, services are cut or in the past enhanced based on the suggested merit of spreading all resources fairly.
The Lakeview Library has one of the highest circulation and usage rates in our city. Closing this Library and making it share services with the Golden Gate Library, another highly utilized branch, makes little sense. Meanwhile, the Temescal Library is underutilized. Yes, its Tool Lending Library is popular, but there is no reason that needs to be site specific. I am sure it would be popular in our West Oakland branch if we could find the space for it. Combining the Lakeview Library and Golden Gate Library to one rotation schedule, as is currently proposed, and not closing libraries that are closer to other branches makes little sense.
Also not making any sense is closing the libraries on the weekend. Now I admit, I don’t have the complete data set in my arsenal but I do think that keeping branches open on Sunday would be a great idea even if this means closing them mid week. I imagine that weekends are a most ideal time for parents to bring their children to the library whereas mid-week this becomes a challenge. I am a strong believer that the schedules of our city services need be tailored around when our citizen-taxpayer can utilize them the easiest. Certainly not every parent maintains a 9-5 work schedule but I would say a fair amount have more time on Saturdays and Sundays to take their children to the library. The Library however, is not just a youth serving venture and in that is a great equalizer in terms of results for our tax investment. Many adults utilize the library and for many working adults, the weekend is the time to go. The fact that Library closure times for all but two days is 5:30 makes little sense. If you are going to close the libraries on more days at least make their hours extend more fully into night when working adults and families have better opportunities to utilize them.
So I hope it is understood here that I am not just criticizing but providing areas for cutting or just wholesaling closing branches that are underutilized. While I am at it, I do hope the council revisits its decision in early 2007 to increase the staff over at the Mayor’s office. Nothing personal folks but when even the mayor’s biggest defender in the media says the staff in that office don’t work, well, it isn’t such a great leap to make. After all, we all have to share the pain, right?
It is understandable that all city services get a review. In this review and especially so around our library, I hope our council heeds the words of our great President Obama and approaches these matters “with a scalpel not a chainsaw”.