Jul 3 2011

Will the City Council Require any Specific Library Services?

On June 28 and 30 Oakland’s City Council approved a budget for the 2011-2013 fiscal years that reportedly keeps all Oakland Public branch libraries open during that time period.  But does that really include the Piedmont Avenue library?

Piedmont’s City Council will consider a library services agreement with Oakland at its meeting on Tuesday, July 5 covering the FY 2010-11 and FY 2011-12. (Currently there is no agreement.)  The staff report notes that the agreement would be contingent on unspecified library branches remaining available, “with the exception of the Piedmont Avenue Branch Library.”  That stunning exception reverses the long tradition of the City’s special relationship and identification with the branch library closest to Piedmont.  There is no definition of what level of availability is required and no requirement of allocating the funds to augment the Oakland Library budget.

Three emails from Oakland library personnel are included in the staff report.  The June 14, 2011 email from Library Director Carmen Martinez makes no mention of which branches would remain open, nor what their days of the week or hours of operation would be.  However, previous communications to Oakland citizens indicated severe cutbacks in days and hours were contemplated even under the best-case budget scenario.  Martinez communicates her desire to receive $350,471  for FY 2011-12 as well as $350,471 for FY 10-11 (which is billed and paid in arrears in former agreements) with no indication of what library services she is prepared to offer in the coming year.

Also attached is a June 24, 2011 memo from Associate Director Gerry Garzon committing the Library to relocate the Piedmont Avenue Branch into a modular unit “as large or larger” than the current library either in the Key Route parking lot or on the grounds of the Piedmont Avenue Elementary School.  This represents a 180-degree turn around from the Director and Associate Director’s statements in late 2010 that the library would not relocate into a modular unit.

The loss of customer parking distressed area merchants, and, combined with the loss of parking income for the City eliminated the Key Route parking lot behind the retail stores on Piedmont Avenue as an economical site.  It was previously stated that the Piedmont Avenue Elementary School had other demands for the library’s desired use of its property.  In a reversal, Garzon now insists that the School is moving aggressively with the City to …” permit a large modular unit library on school property.   

In 2010, the Oakland Library administration’s investigation of the option to move the Piedmont Avenue branch into a 1500 square foot modular unit would have represented a serious downgrading of the library.  It was to have been a space smaller than the current building which would have accommodated fewer books and fewer people.  The 2009 rental rate for that proposed modular unit started at $18,000 per year.  The initial moving and location of the modular unit to the site was quoted as $21,000 excluding the cost of the bathroom and air conditioning.  Moving the library collection and equipment and the new furnishings would have been an additional cost, although Garzon envisioned reusing existing bookshelves as much as possible.  (Built-in units could not be reused.)  Utility costs would be higher since air-conditioning would be required.  Although the library space would be smaller, staff costs would be higher because of public bathroom maintenance, which is not a current cost. Now, however, Garzon is promising not a 1500 square foot modular unit, but a unit as large or larger than the current library building.  The costs would presumably be greater than those reported more than a year ago.

Although Oakland seems to be resisting it, Oakland’s least expensive option appears to be exercising its option to renew the lease of the 41st Street library building at an annual rental cost of $51,000 prior to the October 31 expiration of the current lease term.

The third document from Administrative Librarian Jamie Turbak provides a table of  Piedmont residents’ use of various Oakland Library branches.  It notes the number of registered Piedmont patrons ranges from 1221 at the Piedmont Avenue Branch and two patrons at the M. L. King branch, with Rockridge having 1305 and the Main Library 744.  A total of fourteen branches are listed with at least one “registered patron” but the Oakland table does not reference the year of use. As has been the case with other data provided by the Oakland Library, it is incomplete and undefined.

Confusion about the table provided by Turbak results from the 4,482 given as the number of registered Piedmont patrons as of June 23, 2011.  Coincidentally, that figure is the total of the listed “use” frequency or “exclusive users” of fourteen itemized libraries.  In 2010 Gene Tom, the Oakland library’s Chief Financial Officer stated that 2,668 of the Piedmont cardholders on record were active library patrons in 2009-10.

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