News - June 23, 2010

City rethinking Belle Haven library branch

by Sean Howell

The withdrawal of financial support by the Ravenswood City School District for the Belle Haven branch library in Menlo Park has the city weighing the future of the branch.

The city opened the branch, with financial support from the school district, on the campus of the Belle Haven Community School in 1999. Since then, the branch has served mostly students at the school, though it is also open to the public.

But the school district has not paid its share of the funding (just shy of $40,000 annually) in the past two fiscal years, according to city Finance Director Carol Augustine. That has left the city bearing the entire cost to operate the library ($308,000 per year), and searching for ways to make it more available to the community at large.

"It's serving an (important) population, but it's very direct ... the community at large can't really use it," City Manager Glen Rojas said in an interview. "We're looking at ways to offer more general service, and at long-term solutions. For instance, should we move the library somewhere else?"

As it prepared its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the city considered, but decided against, closing the library, though city management did recommend cutting hours. Some 20 or 30 people turned out for the Library Commission's subsequent meeting in Belle Haven to voice their dismay at the idea of cutting hours, and to show their support for the city's continued operation of the library.

"That library is incredibly important from a community perspective," Alaina Sloo, a member of the commission, told the City Council at its May 28 meeting. "A lot of people don't have books at home, their kids need help with research papers, and it provides a quiet place to study. For a lot of the families in Belle Haven, kids can't get homework help at home. We could really use more tutoring, and more Internet access time."

The city has since said that it would maintain the same number of hours at the Belle Haven branch in the upcoming fiscal year, choosing instead to close the main library on several lower-traffic days per year.

The city will also proceed with plans to shift the hours at the Belle Haven library, to make it more available on nights and weekends. The library is currently open for 32 hours per week, but never after 5 p.m., and never on weekends.

Over 70 Belle Haven residents signed a petition urging the city to maintain its investment in the library, according to Ms. Sloo.

"The community feels that the library is incredibly valuable," she said. "All it needs is to have it open during hours when the community can actually use it."


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