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By Stuart Soffer

Why a library scrap and rebuild?

Uploaded: Aug 11, 2017

Update Monday August 14.

There is an additional active discussion on NextDoor regarding my original post, with valuable public comments, especially from Library Commissioner Lynne Bramlett.

F) How will the city pay for its share?

According to last week’s meeting, the likely approach would be a bank loan for the $20 million. This reflects the ‘urgency’ of movement. The risk of the bank loan approach is that payment depends on the city having an operational surplus each year to pay the nut. Traditional alternatives such as issuing a new bond paid by property owners, such as Measure T Recreational Facilities would take about 2 years of preparation and scheduling a ballot. The city could also use and assortment present fund balances. However, most of these are already for other benefits and projects.

Fortunately, Councilmember Ohtaki is really up to speed on the implications of financial options.

G) Quid Pro Quo

Is approval of the full library replacement part of some quid pro quo? Is this gift dotted line connected to approval of some other project? There have been issues in interpretation of ‘public benefits’, the public benefits of El Camino projects such as 500 El Camino. I don’t know.

It is conceivable in order to smooth stalled negotiations, to change the shape of the pots. Since council and staff members do not publically disclose meetings we won't know. But reporters can ask. (see, Council Member Mueller’s transparency proposal, which vetoed by the mayor.)

H) Belle Haven

Belle Haven presently has a small library as part of the elementary school. A dedicate east side branch has long been discussed, and the current thinking is building an enhancement to the Onetta Harris Center.

This puts the city in an embarrassing situation, (or city is putting itself in an embarrassing situation) where it needs to carefully finesse and explain why the wealthy side of town gets this gift.

Lynne Bramlett says, in part, “The City of San Diego recently established an "equity" policy for its library system due to similar challenges as now face Menlo Park. In short, donors in wealthy areas were giving money to the branches near them and due to San Diego's "gift matching policy," branches in wealthy areas were rapidly improving while branches in lower income areas were not.”

I) is a new library edifice a way to expand offices for city hall? I hope not: That would be dishonest.


I attended Tuesday’s (August 8th) meeting of the Finance Audit Committee which met to discuss financing options for $20 million to rebuild the Menlo Park Library. The expected cost is $45 million, and John Arrillaga has generously offered to fund the balance after the City contributes $20 million.

When I first heard of this potential project to rebuild the library several alarms went off.

The Space Needs Study says, “Because of time constraints, staff recommends that public input on the siting options be gathered through a design charrette process facilitated by staff and qualified consultants.” However the report doesn’t enumerate any time constraints, so what’s the rush?

During the initial public comments I addressed the panel on these topics:

A) There should be an accounting of projects that were accomplished through Measure T parcel tax. That there may be funds available in the third tranche of that parcel tax.

B) Menlo Park residents may have more pressing issues, like pension deficits, housing and traffic, and loads of construction already. I suggested that they punt this back to council to get a reality check.

C) I know a lot about libraries, and am a expert in library automation and cataloging; have designed, developed and marketed three library circulation, cataloging systems and full text indexing for NOAA, Tacoma Public Library, a third for a company for whom I was VP, and developed and licensed network software for library automation vendors. Two years ago I testified in a patent case on the nuances of Library of Congress cataloging details (i.e., the date when was a book publicly available).

D) From my experience in Internet trends, materials and queries, and public libraries that I visit, libraries are shrinking – a victim of o- line technology cutting out the ‘middle man’. I cited recent visits to main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which was bore little resemblance to its prior bustling stacks, but now had immigration services offices.

E) I failed to see any statistical data that the common metrics of a library operation and trends: circulation (borrowing) counts, turnstile counts, size of the collections, number of active patrons. No data was provided to show that growth on any of these trend indicators has grown to where a remodel is compelling.

Our library manager attended the meeting, and as the primary stakeholder, I expected a statement to the committee and public as an advocate the project. There was none. This is driven by other forces.

$45 million for a net 11,000 square feet is $4000 sq/ft?) That’s more than the cost of Atherton’s new civic campus. I read the use study of the Menlo Project, which suggests that this is more about public meeting spaces than libraries.