I hope I’m in better shape when I turn 60 than Oakland’s Main Library is

12 Jan

Yesterday, the Council had its first day of committee meetings, which is where most of the City’s policy decisions are made. I didn’t get a chance to watch the meetings, but one thing they should have discussed is the state of Oakland libraries, particularly the Main Library, which just celebrated it’s 60th anniversary.

I must admit that I don’t use our libraries frequently. I used to live in walking distance from the Rockridge branch, and I went there a few times (it’s a great space for meetings), but since library hours were cut, I never seem to be able to find time to go to libraries when they’re open. Last month I was downtown for Robert Raburn’s swearing in, and on my way to meet a friend I walked by the Main Library and thought I’d pop in. Of course, it was closed. I couldn’t understand – it was a Thursday at 11am and not a furlough day or a holiday. I looked it up later and found out that the Main Library doesn’t open until noon on Thursdays.

Sadly, the limited hours of the library are not the only problem. The Main Library seems to be falling into a state of disrepair lately. Though the Council managed to spare libraries from complete closures during the various rounds of budget cuts over the last two years, they must have cut funding sufficiently so that the library can’t make basic repairs.

As of Monday, here are some of the things that were broken at the Main Library:

  • Several of the public use internet computers were broken and of course the rest of the computers were booked for the day.
  • There was no ability to print from the public use computers.

  • One of the men’s restroom on the mezzanine was out of service.
  • The ADA women’s restroom downstairs was out of service due to an ant infestation!

  • The elevator was out of service. I have no idea what disabled people are supposed to do since it’s a four story building – maybe they have staff get books for them?

  • The main catalog search computer in the lobby is broken, and it was broken the last time I went into the Main Library a few months ago (not sure if it worked in the interim or not). It’s lovely to walk into the library and be greeted by an out of order sign.

The Council has been so proud about how they managed to balance the budget without closing libraries (even though the libraries are closed constantly), but if they don’t provide the facilities and IT support required to deliver services, what is the point of having all these libraries?

How can we expect people to use library services if it’s basically a crapshoot whether they’re going to be working on any given day? “Come use our computers and printing, but make sure you call first to see if they’re working this week.” It’s like if AC Transit had some bus that only runs half the times it is scheduled to – who is going to ride it?

Mayor Jean Quan and the Council must step up to fix this situation. I don’t know if the other branches are in such bad shape, but it’s totally unacceptable for our Main Library to be in this condition.

30 Responses to “I hope I’m in better shape when I turn 60 than Oakland’s Main Library is”

  1. joni January 12, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    this “article” is nonsense. I was just at the library yesterday. It was packed and functional. As for the bathrooms – well, so what? go to the other bathrooms. As for the ADA elevator, this country is going down because of cumbersome ADA laws. You read the latest SF Chronicle article about bookstores closing because of people in wheelchairs suing? That’s America for you. As for computers and printers, big deal! They’ll be up and running at some point.

    The big point? Everyone is now using the web. Libraries are for poor people now. Do I want to subsidize redoing the main for this purpose? NO. No. No. I think we should convert it into a cheap internet cafe.

    • Becks January 12, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      I completely agree that everyone’s using the web – that’s why it’s so important that EVERYONE, even the “poor people” have access. The library is one of the only places that offers free access, so it’s incredibly important to maintain this and related services.

    • dto510 January 12, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      It seems like the City Council agrees with joni, that we shouldn’t have libraries – and so they are in an unacceptable, unusable condition.

    • Becky January 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      Libraries are only for poor people? Really? First of all, judging by the packed rooms at storyhour, that’s not true. And even if it was true, so what?

    • Lexica January 13, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      What a grotesquely self-centered comment.

      “This country is going down because of cumbersome ADA laws.” Yes, god forbid we actually allow all of our citizens to participate fully in public life. How dare those worthless crips expect to be able to use libraries and public transit like normal people?

      “Libraries are for poor people now. Do I want to subsidize redoing the main for this purpose? NO.” I do hope that when — not if, when — you

      • Lexica January 13, 2011 at 11:57 am #

        Bother. Comment got cut off before I meant to hit send. Anyway, what I was going to say is I hope that when you hit a point in your life when you need help, the people you reach out to don’t look at you with the same disdain you’re looking at library users with.

  2. OPL staff January 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    As a member of the OPL staff, I feel that I have to chime in here.

    It’s true that we’re struggling with an increased demand for internet access, mostly due to an overburdened, centralized IT department that serves all our city departments. And it’s true that we have to close from time to time for citywide furloughs. But to call Oakland’s librarys “unacceptable,” “unusable,” and, most baffling, only “for poor people” is a gross mischaracterization of the services, materials, and programs that we provide Oakland’s adults, teens, and children every day of the week.

    I see hundreds of people — from all socioeconomic backgrounds — effectively using the library’s collections every day. Systemwide, this means thousands of people are served by OPL on the daily. Our hold shelves are brimming with books that patrons have asked us to reserve for them. Our programs (i.e. storytime, Lawyers in the Library) are popular and consistently well-attended. Classes from local schools regularly visit with our children’s librarians. And yes, we provide internet access to hundreds of people each day who would otherwise go without.

    We’re doing the best we can with the resources currently available to us during these rough economic times. By all means, contact our city council members if you’re dismayed by what you see in the library — but please remember that, warts and all, OPL serves our community in a multitude of ways and successfully informs, delights, and inspires countless Oakland residents.

    • Becks January 12, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

      I never said that libraries are only for poor people – a commenter who I vehemently disagree with wrote that.

      And just to be clear, I think OPL is doing an incredible job with the resources you have. It’s just clear that you need more resources – be that funding, volunteer time, or something else. This blog post is aimed at the Council and Mayor, not at OPL management or staff. I know staff works very hard on a limited budget and I greatly appreciate the work you do.

    • Jason and Alexa January 19, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      Great comment amongst a bunch of noise. The reality is that funds are tight, and the limited hours, deferred maintenance, etc. are a reflection of fiscal constraints within Oakland. If you want services, you have to pay for them.

  3. Becky January 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Things aren’t much better at the Lakeview Branch — one of the few computers has been down for weeks, and there’s no restroom — you have to use the public restrooms in the park.

    However, there’s always people there, and they do a great story time for toddlers, so it could be worse.

    • Becks January 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      I’m glad to hear that people are taking advantage of Lakeview and the programs there. It’s sad though that a computer can be down for weeks without being fixed. I’m assuming that’s due to IT being basically entirely cut from the libraries budget.

  4. karen hoff January 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    If you were here you would know that everything in that O report is true!

  5. annalee allen January 12, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    for me, it comes back to pride of place. our 60 year old main library needs our care and attention so everyone can use it. if you care about libraries, join the Friends group and keep the pressure on the Council to find ways to keep them open and to fix what needs fixing. I am one of those who find the building’s simple elegant lines worthy of landmark status. I know not everyone agrees, however, we aren’t likely to get a new one anytime soon. So let’s love the one we do have.

    • Becks January 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

      Yes! And for folks who don’t know, Annalee is referring to Friends of the Oakland Public Library (FOPL), which is a great organization: http://www.fopl.org/

      • OPL staff January 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

        FOPL is the best! And, for those who still like to read books of paper housed in brick-and-mortar buildings, you can benefit Oakland’s libraries by donating to or purchasing books at the Bookmark on Washington St b/t 7th and 8th.

        • annalee allen January 13, 2011 at 7:49 am #

          The Bookmark is one of the best kept secrets in town, if you’re a book lover. Plus it acts as a destination/anchor to the Old Oakland District (the store is located in one of the restored Victorians on Washington St.).
          That’s a win/win in my book (no pun intended).

  6. Billy Mumford January 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    I use the Main Library often, and appreciate the collections. I rush to get there after work before it closes at 5:30, and am always sad to see the announcements about the extended closings due to furloughs. The building and facilities show their age, but it usually seems quite full of people reading and studying. Public libraries used to be at the center of American society, but we’ve lost the sense of living in a society.

  7. joni January 12, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Umm, we haven’t lost any sense of society at ALL! It’s just moved to the web! There is a thriving world out there. It’s just on the web, not the library.

    Let’s just say it: the library is an obsolete dinosaur. I see no reason to invest in it when the current model doesn’t prepare anyone for the real world. Real info is on the web.

    We would be pouring money down a sink hole if we upgrade them without really changing the model. Instead of books, libraries should use their valuable real estate for community town hall meetings, movie rooms, pro bono legal sessions, and internet cafes.

    Our libraries are museums now. And guess what? Museums are obsolete dinosaurs too.

  8. joni January 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    I apologize for the confusion.

    Yes, thousands of people use the library as it was intended. Books are checked out, people discover new ideas and authors, many people who don’t have internet discover it slowly over time, the library is one of the few “peace zones” in Oakland, etc.

    All this without a doubt is truly good.

    However, ebooks are going to make the actual book more and more rare. It’s already happening. So I’m saying, we have to re-envision the entire library and make this taxpayer-funded program much more relevant to today’s generation. Because what has the library turned into? A sort of low grade welfare site.

    • Becks January 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

      What’s awesome though is libraries have evolved over the past decade and could evolve even more with sufficient funding. Now they’re not just focused on books. They’re places people can use computers, take part in various programs, and check out CDs and DVDs.

    • Stephie January 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

      Did you know that you can check out e-books through OPL?

      The reason that libraries all over the state and country are falling into disrepair is because it costs money to maintain them. It costs money to keep technology relevant, and people are too stingy to fund ‘non-essentials’ such as libraries, the arts, or music.
      I think that the current state of libraries in general is a symptom of a greater problem – that people have lost focus on the importance of community. The library has long been the center of a community in many ways and as people lose interest in maintaining their community it shows in the library.
      All that being said, I think the library staff at OPL does a wonderful job. I have been impressed with the knowledge and friendliness of the librarians at the Main Library and a number of the branches. I use the library regularly and enjoy it.

  9. Oakland Space Academy January 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    For all Joni’s forward thinking, the future is here now rah-rah isms, she sure doesn’t know much about libraries. She should get on the web and research them a bit. Libraries, in the last 10 years, have been doing all she thinks they should and more.

    And forward thinking architects like Will Bruder (Phoenix), Rem Koolhaus (Jussieu, Seattle), Dominique Perrault (Biblio Nationale France) have been re-imagining libraries for even longer.

    Joni is lucky her station in life allows her to believe that e-books are set to overtake print books. That may be the case for her and her cohorts, but it is far less true for the majority of Oaklanders. To my eye, libraries are one of the last places left that all socio-economic groups come together, which is a very good thing indeed.

  10. joni January 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    This is why liberals can’t balance budgets without hiking taxes, reform obsolete programs, and generally can’t solve hard problems.

    By the way, I see Oakland’s crime problems as the fault of every liberal who starts with “socio-economic” as an answer.

    Yes, I know libraries have changed. They have responded to the challenge pretty well. In New York, a new multimillion dollar library was done by a starchitect.

    That’s irrelevant for Oakland. there is no money and no one should take it by once again, hiking taxes. Instead, we should acknowledge this low grade welfare assistance and start reform of the library model entirely. Starting with the overemployment going on at the Main.

  11. joni January 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    As for ADA laws, read the SFGATE article.

    It’s throwing businesses under the bus.

    Businesses, which employ us. Which make “public life” possible.

    Sure, let’s just squash them.

  12. Hometown grrl January 13, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    Libraries have a place in society. Thankfully, the number of Jonis in Oakland are not enough to stop the eventual upgrade of the main library.

    First, for all the hype about people going to e-books and accessing the internet from home – some 30+% of the people don’t have internet access. Something tells me that not all the 30% are going to e-books.

    Second, ADA is not intrusive. It is the right thing to do. What is a bit excessive are signs that tell people to be fragrance-free. People wash clothes in scented detergents. People wear perfume and cologne. Some people can not tolerate the scent of smoke on people but I do not see any signs requesting people refrain from smoking.

    Third, libraries are community places. My family was not rich and I don’t think anyone would classify us as poor but we went to the library. Why? Reading hour. Research. Homework. Now, I had parents at home but what about those kids whose parents, grandparents, etc aren’t home. Libraries have Homework help centers. It is significantly easier to getr volunteers to a central bldg than 10s of homes.

    Communtiy. We are striving for TOD and multi-generational living in Oakland. A library is central to building the community. Homework centers, activities for active adults, a place for youth to work/ volunteer, musical performances…

    The Oakland library is doing wonderful things. E-lending, homework, tax help are things that come to mind. There is no doubt that we need a better library. I think what will make the Jonis of the city feel better is if we stop pushing off our obligations to the next generation. When you continually use debt to stall pension pymts and increase taxes to cover the debt pymt, you effectively limit people’s willingness to pay additional money for a number of other needed services.

  13. Erin January 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Agreed. (with post, I haven’t read all the comments) I’ve never been to the main branch but I find myself often frustrated with the Temescal branch’s hours. I know it’s not the library’s fault – they definitely need more funding.
    Just from skimming previous comments, I have to say this – libraries definitely have a place in today’s society. First of all, I just love the atmosphere of libraries. I also like having a way to borrow books instead of buying them whenever I want to read something new. And no, I don’t want to join some online book swapping group because a) there’s no atmosphere and no real live human connection and b) those aren’t actually free when you have to pay for postage. I love libraries! More funding, please!

  14. Karen Smulevitz January 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    60 is old? Oh boy, feeling a bit sensitive about that! Libraries have always been part of my life, and my kids got their cards as soon as they could write their names. I’m sure most people with a love of learning have similar memories of searching through stacks smelling of bookbinding glue and wood and old and new paper. For quite a while I mourned the passing of those stalwart card catalogues that led us by the Dewey Decimal System to the books we wanted, and grudgingly learned to access the computers, I have to admit it’s a better method now, but needs maintenance to work effectively.
    Comfy reading area are nice, but cafes trouble me because of the possibility of one’s soy latte decaf spilling on the collections. To call libraries a welfare program or relegate them to serving low-income people is insane. A well-educated populace is central to a great democracy, and libraries are where it starts.
    As for the cost of ADA, one should worry more about the hole in one’s soul than about how much tax one pays for equal access. When I was a kid, people with handicaps were only seen as panhandlers, as there was no employment for them. Most stayed inside private homes or institutions, because it was impossible to get around. Buses did not have lifts, imagine! Only people with guide dogs could traverse the public streets. Today we benefit from the inclusion of talented people because of ADA.
    I can only hope that Joni is playing devil’s advocate, and is not into drowning babies with birth defects or leaving Granny to die in the snowy woods.

  15. Hometown grrl January 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    I would not worry about grammy in the snow woods; she can melt the snow for water. 😉

    If I look hard enough, I might just find my first library card. I, too, mourned the loss of the card catalogue. I loved going into the stacks. The joy in loading the microfiche to read old papers. Sure you can get it online today but for a fee.

    As to the cafe, riddle me this Batman, how is it that transit advocates who easily recognize that free parking is bad for commerce and the air, don’t recognize the same when they sit in a cafe all day nursing one latte while reading a book. (this is an observation not meant to reflect any one person – it could be that the people I observe sipping the one latte do not understand free parking but they look like the type who would.)

  16. joni January 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    All these posts miss the point.

    ADA laws throw small businesses under the bus. Our current ADA laws make it an INCENTIVE to sue.

    Why don’t any of you listen to the other side? Instead, you assume people who don’t want ADA laws want to drown babies and kill of grandma.

    I have a deep suspicion that none of you posters employ a lot of people. You don’t pay commercial rent, make payroll, pay business taxes.

    ADA is anti-small business, not anti-corporation. Big corporations can afford elevator upgrades and wider hallways. Small businesses? Who employ most of us? Nope.

    As for the library, it is no longer a library. It’s more about children’s rooms, DVD checkouts, free Internet, a rent-free place to sit and go the bathroom, etc. Yes, this is what makes community. However, our libraries today have too much staff (we need to digitize more) and too much space for books that have not been checked out for years.

    Yup. Go the main library. There are books that haven’t been checked out for 5+ years.

    Before we fund anything by hiking taxes, we need to look at where the money is really going and how to turn the library real estate around to something more useful.

    It’s the same for lots of tax-funded programs.

  17. Hometown grrl January 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    You are correct; I for one do not worry about making payroll, and if I found some rules onerous, I would probably complain about implementation. But I also would not open a business in a bldg where I need to make significant alterations to be compliant. And as much as I support ADA, I am not in favor of people who use the law as free income.

    The library has really always been more than a library. But you point about their collection is well taken. I have had conversations with some of the librarians about the collection. I don’t think it makes a ot of sense to buy certain annual books. I also think that their book selection could use a bit of an upgrade.

    I advocate for a library but we can’t apply 1950 business practices to a 2011 library.

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