Town Square

Post a New Topic

Surprise move: funds for library's book group axed

Original post made on Aug 25, 2010

The final chapter of the Menlo Park Library's 15-year-old book discussion group doesn't make for a happy ending. In fact, it's proven to be quite the tear-jerker.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 23, 2010, 4:00 PM

Comments (21)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by book reader
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Obviously this could have been handled better, but I have to say I agree with the decision. It never would have occurred to me that my tax money was being spent in this way. I've belonged to numerous book clubs over the years and we've never had a paid facilitator. In this day and age of finding thought-provoking questions for most book-club fodder on the internet and even in the back of books, I personally don't see the need for it. But if you want one, please feel free to spend your own money on it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Book reader - if the position is fully funded by Friends, doesn't that mean it's NOT tax payer money, but rather from their fundraisers & donations?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I've never heard of book club facilitators being paid (having been one myself). I have also donated many times to the library, and I always assumed the money was going for items and services that benefit all users, not just a select few. Good decision by the director.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Pay attention now
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 25, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Book reader and reader, I think you're missing the point, or points. The group was NOT funded by taxpayers. The funder, Friends of the Library, is a nonprofit, nonpublic group that exists to enhance library programs. This was a program that benefited a large number of library patrons (about 150) who love to read -- an activity that the library should be in full support of, don't you think? No tax dollars -- I repeat, NO TAX DOLLARS -- were going into the funding of this program.

The leader was being paid a stipend, awarded by a private, nonprofit group, because of all the work she was doing to keep this group functioning at the level that made it highly effective, popular and successful. $100 per month was not an unreasonable amount to pay someone to make this program as top notch as it was. The leader, for a mere $100 per month, was able to ensure participants that there would be a discussion each month that was enriching and worth attending.

I have been a member of groups without a professional leader, and because of the lack of commitment of the people assigned to lead the group (usually volunteer leaders assigned on a rotating basis) I stayed with the groups for anywhere from 3 to 9 months. There are people who have stayed with the library's group for 15 years.

But a major, super important point that you've missed: Susan Holmer chose not to notify Lauren John and the group that she planned to cut the rug out from under them. After the fact, she notified Lauren BY EMAIL that her services were no longer needed. This group could have been saved had Holmer done the right thing, behaved in a way that any reasonable person would have expected a competent manager to behave. What were Holmer's motives in handling this situation in the way she did? Maybe her funding priorities were defensible, I can't really judge. But the WAY she handled this was outrageous. A manager? In title and pay only, I'm afraid. A competent manager never would have handled this the way she did.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Renee Batti
news editor of The Almanac
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Renee Batti is a registered user.

For more comments on this topic, see:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lauren John
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Book Club Reader assures us that we don't need a professional book group leader because of all the book club FODDER on the Internet.

Just thought (free of charge, that I would put on my book group leader hat once more and define FODDER for you all:

Something fed to domestic animals: especially coarse food for cattle, horses or sheep.
Inferior or readily available material used to supply a heavy demand.
Eg. Fodder for tabloids.
Source: Merriam Websters

Can we have a little respect for our book group members here?!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by book reader
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Thank you, Hmmmm, for pointing out that if it were paid for by Friends of the Library it was not tax money. I didn't think that one through. And thank you, Lauren Johns for the vocabulary lesson....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm

The club wasn't "paid for by the Friends:" if the Friends controlled the funding, then the group wouldn't have been shut down. My understanding is that the Friends, to whom many of us have donated, is the fundraising arm of the library, just as the school foundations raise money for the schools. The funds are handed over as an unrestricted donation to the library, are absorbed into the operating budget, and therefore become commingled with the tax dollars. Because a chunk of money was going to the book club, it was not being used for higher priority projects that could have served more library patrons. Thanks to the library ending its sponsorship, that money will be redirected to more appropriate uses.

By the way, although I might argue with the syntax of book reader's comment, the use of "fodder" was absolutely correct. Fodder can mean animal food or inferior material, or it can simply mean raw material. Perhaps Ms. John needs to expand her vocabulary beyond the confines of the free online Merriam Webster (not Websters) dictionary?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Reader - what is your gripe? It's only $1200/yr. If the funds were raised by Friends, it's not tax money, even if the funds end up comingled wtax money. I've donated a lot to the Friends through the tears as well but I do have issue w/the facilitator not getting paid. A stipend can make a big difference for a facilitator. It honors their commitment. A group going for 15 years is a long time. Teens & kids can augment their reading w/books from other libraries - that's much easier than trying to start a new group or get someone to lead it for free, expecting them to pay expenses out of pocket.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Pay attention now
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 10:55 pm

"Reader," since you seem to be so concerned with definitions, could you tell us how you define "a chunk of money"? We're talking about $1,200 here. You call that a "chunk of money"? That's peanuts when you're talking about a program that serves 150 people who are engaged in an activity that a library might be expected to support, namely, reading. And, the money came from a private, nonprofit group that funded programs that enhance the nuts and bolts operation of the library. No taxpayer money involved.

But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'd also like to focus again on what is probably the most important issue here: Holmer's treatment of the situation, and of Lauren John. You have ignored that question, "reader," and I wonder why.

According to the article, the discussion group probably would have survived the funding cut because members would probably have pulled their resources together or raised new funds to keep it afloat. But Lauren John was dealt such an unkind and unwarranted slap in the face that she apparently doesn't want anything more to do with the Menlo Park library. Why don't you weigh in on that point, "reader"? I think whether or not it was justified to cut off the Friends of the Library funding is a legitimate question that many of us are unresolved about. But how on earth can you justify Holmer's behavior? Please address that question.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Library Patron
a resident of Woodside High School
on Aug 27, 2010 at 1:46 am

As someone who believes in public libraries I am alarmed that the library has to rely on the private funds of the Friends of the Library to operate....whatever happened to the public taxpaper funds we pay for city services? I did a little research and learned that the Menlo Park library has been cutting back on books and other items to check out. I learned that library has to rely on a lot of temporary workers which they have layed off. Library patrons have little idea how hard the limited staff of the library work to provide a high quality service. I learned the library has cut back its hours and days (did you know they close the whole weekend before all Monday holidays!) I also learned that the library, which I believe serves more citizens than most public services, is one of the lower funded services in the City of Menlo Park! At one time I remember the Menlo Park library to be open more hours and evenings with a lot more material available for doing research. I also know the library started their own foundation...so why then does the director have to depend on the "Friends of the Library?" Most libraries I know have directors who advocate to get more city money to support the library and raise money through their foundation. Check out the Redwood City library and see how it is thriving! And that is a city with less funds than Menlo Park.
If the Menlo Park Library Director gets all the money from the Friends
just handed over to her, then why does she have to account to the Friends at all about spending? My understanding is they just let her do what she wants with it! But, again, I have to wonder why she is not doing more with the library's own foundation, and why she is not doing more to get funds and staff from the city to support the library?
I would add that I know a lot of paid book facilitators at a lot of other libraries, and facilitators have been paid at the Menlo Park Library for many years. Why all of a sudden does this become a financial issue, and why was it done so secretly, do clandestinely that the people doing the book facilitation were not even given the common courtesy to know that their program of at least
10 plus years came to an end. By the way there was another book group at the MP Library given the "ax" at the same time this one was. Funny that was never mentioned? The whole thing just doesn't seem right to me. The City of Menlo Park has plenty of public money to spend on high priced consultatnts and studies that never result in anything. Why can't the city properly fund the library!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lauren John
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2010 at 6:38 am

Reader:
I wish that I knew who you were by actual name, because you have provided the first clear understanding of the amount of control that the Friends do or don't have over the money that they raise.

In your note you say:

The club wasn't "paid for by the Friends:" if the Friends controlled the funding, then the group wouldn't have been shut down. My understanding is that the Friends, to whom many of us have donated, is the fundraising arm of the library, just as the school foundations raise money for the schools. The funds are handed over as an unrestricted donation to the library, are absorbed into the operating budget, and therefore become commingled with the tax dollars. Because a chunk of money was going to the book club, it was not being used for higher priority projects that could have served more library patrons. Thanks to the library ending its sponsorship, that money will be redirected to more appropriate uses.


If indeed you are accurate, this clarifies a whole lot.
Is Susan Holmer the sole person deciding how Friends money is spent?
When you say "thanks to the library" ending its sponsorship--who is "the library"? Susan Holmer?
(In fairness, she has made a lot of very responsible decisions about spending the Friends money--teen and youth and literacy projects DO need community support--and though she slapped our book group in the face, Holmer has paid attention to other community priorities.)

If Reader's assessment is accurate, are the Friends okay with granting her sole power over spending the funds that they raise?
And does she really have sole power?
Is there an advisory or oversight committee?
And how much money are we talking about?
I, too, have wondered what the difference between the Friends and the Foundation.

Anyone else have the same questions?
Regardless of who decides how the money gets spent--it would be great to know who the DECIDER or DECIDERS are.
And how do we get City management and City Council and Library Friends and Foundation to take notice of this dialog going on here in Town Square?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FELLOW LIBRARIAN
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I agree the tax payer need not pay for a Book Club leader. Ask Kepler's to find out how many,varied and long-term clubs there are within a reasonable distance. Maybe even some for Young Adults.

It is a perfect activity for The Friends of the Library to fund if they (not Director Holmer) choose. Where is the accounting and who is reponsible?

I also believe the short and unilateral notice of ending the club demonstrates Director Holmer is out of touch with her customers and her staff and has no concept of teamwork. As stated, it is possible the club could have offered solutions if a discussion had been offered. Perhaps even inviting the Young Adults to some of the meetings? Wouldn't that make for some interesting discussions....a meeting of the minds of different generations.

Lastly, her inept ending of it disrespects her customers, her staff and what surprises me, is that no one as yet mentioned how rude she was. Something tells me she would not have done this to her own boss.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

It's heartening to read these thoughtful comments & intelligent questions. As a lifelong lover of local libraries, this recent problem is disturbing. Some of my best childhood memories are from MP library. I had friends in high school who worked there part time.

What other group was shut down?

Can the MP library director get called on her behavior?

Why are teen & children books considered more important - because they'd reach more readers than a large book club?

Overall, this whole issue could have been handled much more adroitly & respectfully.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by insider
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 28, 2010 at 11:38 am

The other discussion group that was defunded is a mystery book group. But for some reason, it had been funded in advance, so can still pay its moderator for another year. That's good for the mystery book group, but the irony is that it has only half as many members as the group that just got cut off at the knees, thanks to a clueless, removed-from-reality library director. I hope her boss holds her accountable for this cruel and unthinking act.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by City Budget Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

According to the numbers released to the Post. the city spent $1,300,000 on salaries (plus pensions and healthcare) on the permanent employees of our library (Director and Library Assistants) and an additional $300,000 temporary employees. That $1.3 million was spent on 13 employees and with benefits exceeds 8% of the city budget. so while the city has been cutting back, it still spends LOTS of money on personnel and their direct and indirect operating costs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lauren John
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Budget watcher and others:

What percentage of that 1.3 million was/is Library Director Susan Holmer's salary, benefits and vacation time?

Isn't this a matter of public record?

Just wondering.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by City Budget Watcher,
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 29, 2010 at 12:08 am

Lauren John

Her total compensation was $154,000.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested Library Student
a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2010 at 2:09 pm

For most libraries, the Friends group and the Foundation (if there is one) are entirely distinct from one another.

I'm not an expert on MPL's situation -- just enjoy it as a lovely library -- but typically Friends handle donations of books and sales of donated books (both online and real-world) and generate funds through these efforts. These funds are often used to augment the collection budget and to fund programs/events. A Foundation, on the other hand, is dedicated to fundraising, as in asking for cash.

Their respective tax statuses may be entirely different, as might library policy and city policy (and whatever other requirements) that govern how their monies are spent.

Separately, and from a profession-wide perspective, paid facilitators are very common at libraries (or perhaps *were* very common, thanks to this economy). MPL was not a free-spending aberration in this regard.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by abbooks
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Sep 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Does any one know who Susan Holder's supervisor is?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by book lover
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Susan Holmer's supervisor would be the city manager, Glen Rojas.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Cho's, beloved dim sum spot, to reopen in Los Altos
By Elena Kadvany | 8 comments | 5,850 views

Why I Became Active in Palo Alto Forward
By Steve Levy | 12 comments | 2,276 views

Early Decision Blues
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,877 views

What Are Menlo Park’s Priorities?
By Erin Glanville | 22 comments | 1,056 views

Water Torture
By Paul Bendix | 1 comment | 404 views