The two hours of public comment at last night’s budget meeting was dominated by library supporters, testifying about the importance of libraries in Oakland and protesting the possibility of cuts.
What would the Mayor’s budget mean for the library?
Most people I run into around town lately seem to be aware that the Mayor’s proposed budget closes libraries, but very few appear to be aware of the severity of the proposed cuts. Even those who have followed the budget in some detail are often fuzzy about just what these proposed cuts would mean.
This is probably because the Mayor’s budget summaries say simply that under Scenario A, four libraries would remain open (Main, Dimond, Rockridge, and 81st Avenue) while fourteen locations would be closed. That’s horrible on its own, of course. But a lot of people, after seeing the summary, seem to be left with the impression that at least those locations would continue to operate in the same way that they do now.
This is not the case.
Under this scenario, the Library’s allotted staff would decrease from the current 215.04 FTE to a mere 22.8 FTE (PDF). That is a nearly 90% staffing cut, which clearly does not leave enough staff to operate the Library’s four largest facilities at the same level of service currently being provided.
In the video below from last night’s budget meeting, Oakland Public Library Director Carmen Martinez outlines the severe impacts to services at the library under the Mayor’s proposed budget Scenario A:
To maintain minimum library services at the four remaining libraries, we would need to really work with the City Administrator to reduce the services that we currently offer or to just eliminate many of them. We’d have to eliminate days and hours open to the public. 22.8 FTEs don’t allow us to run four buildings in the manner we run them now.
We would lose public access to community meeting rooms, we would not be able to purchase books and materials. The City would not have access to the entire system’s collection, it would only have access to those four branch collections. There would be limited access to public computers and technology, and community programming, including everything we do now from Lawyers in the Libraries to all of our wonderful children’s and teen programs would be severely reduced.
We would close the Oakland History Room, the Teen Zone, and the Children’s Room at the Main Library, and public access at the Main Library would be limited to the first floor, requiring the move of the Magazine & Newspapers, Children’s and Teen’s collection all to the first floor so we could manage one floor at a time.
The last slide is just to remind Council that library services as we have provided and enjoyed them all these years would cease to exist under Option A, but be maintained under Options B and C.
A FAQ prepared by the library (PDF) notes additional service impacts, such as the discontinuation of electronic services like databases and downloadable e-books.
Scenario A and Measure Q
The reason our libraries are facing such drastic cuts under Scenario A is because that the majority of the Library’s funding is currently provided by a parcel tax, Measure Q. This tax, which passed with a 77.2% yes vote, goes only to fund the library, and requires the City to give the library a minimum contribution of $9,059,989 from the General Fund (the same amount it got from the General Fund in 2000) in order to collect the tax.
Mayor Jean Quan’s Budget Scenario A would reduce the library’s General Fund funding (PDF) to less than four million dollars, forcing the City to give up Measure Q. That means sacrificing nearly $14 million of dedicated funding to the library, and cutting the library’s budget by almost $20 million in order to get a savings to the City of roughly $6 million.
The Mayor’s proposed Budget Scenario B, which assumes employee concessions and no parcel tax, proposes to keep library funding at the Measure Q mandated minimum, allowing us to retain library services without new taxes.
However, some Councilmembers seem to have either failed to notice this or don’t believe it. Indeed, even the Mayor herself appears to have forgotten this detail. I have seen at least two Councilmembers respond to constituent messages protesting library cuts by saying that if they want to keep the libraries open, they need to support the parcel tax. At the Library’s author talk with Isabel Wilkerson the other night at AAMLO (made possible by the wonderful Friends of the Oakland Public Library), Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told the crowd that the “only way” to protect Measure Q was to pass her parcel tax.
Public testimony in support of the Oakland Public Library
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the public comment from last night’s meeting, most of it from library staff, about the importance of libraries to Oakland, and especially to Oakland’s youth.
Here’s one from an employee at the new 81st Avenue Community Library in East Oakland, talking about how library staff serve as mentors and positive role models to the next generation of Oakland youth:
Although it’s not part of our job description, as library staff, we are mentors, we are building relationships and modeling positive social skills with our community and most importantly, young people. As a man working in East Oakland, and as a man without a gun working in East Oakland, I’m overwhelmed by the impact that myself and my colleagues have on the lives of young men who use our libraries.
I know that I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we have a passion and a commitment to bettering the lives that we serve. The fifth grade boys I work with today, the two schools next door to the 81st Avenue Branch, are the next generation of 17 to 24 year old men of color in East Oakland. We have an opportunity to shift the need of policing this next generation and giving them skills to thrive and reflect and make good decisions that make our community healthier for all of us, including them.
In this one, a Children’s Librarian from the 81st Avenue Community Library talks about how children in the neighborhood seek out the library as a place of solace and escape from tragedies in their lives:
In this video, an Oakland Children’s Librarian presents the Council with 5,511 signatures from Oakland residents on a petition expressing outrage at the proposed closure of libraries, and speaks about the economic returns of money invested in library services:
But one thing that hasn’t been discussed so far is the fact that libraries bring economic value to communities, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about that. This is something else that I’d like to show Council, this is just one of a number of studies that have been conducted throughout the United States. This latest one is from Wisconsin, there’s the bibliography that lists about forty other locations that have done studies.
What these studies have found is that for every dollar that is spent on library services between four and five dollars of returns come into the city economically. How do these benefits come? They come through salaries that are paid, and there are over four hundred part time and full time staff that are at Oakland Public Library right now.
They come with taxes that are paid, and sixty five percent of Oakland Public Library employees are City of Oakland residents. They come from vendors and contractors, many of them local, that sell items to Oakland Public Library. They come from neighboring businesses who generate income from patrons who are using the library. This is particularly critical in Oakland where we need retail businesses. Library locations such as those at Cesar Chavez, Piedmont Avenue, Rockridge, Dimond are located on Main avenues and people who use the library bring in business.
They also bring in economic business for the cost of services if the public had to buy them. We’re talking about buying books, DVDs, computer time, and programs. This is the May calendar of events for the Oakland Public Library, and I counted the number of programs we’re offering this month — two hundred twenty five. Additionally, OPL offers computer skills and resources for people searching for jobs. We offer free legal help, we offer free tax help, and free financial help.
Cutting any sort of libraries, as my mother would have said, may be penny wise, but it is pound foolish.
In this video, an East Oakland librarian discusses the importance of public libraries for Oakland’s youth in light of the lack of school libraries at Oakland public schools.
Our school’s libraries are already decimated. There are currently 7,500 OUSD students without library services this year. That number will not be smaller next year. As of last week, when almost all OUSD funded librarians were laid off, there are only two professional librarians paid for currently by OUSD. Now we are threatening to take away these students’ public libraries too. What does our city’s future look like when our children lose access to books and research help, when our job seekers lose access to computers and resources, and the number of community funded safe spaces lessens to nearly none?
Here’s a teen library patron discussing the importance of libraries for Oakland youth who wish to attend college.
We all lose if libraries are cut, but the city’s teens and children will lose the most.
This one isn’t from last night, it’s actually from the May 12th meeting. An Oakland Children’s Librarian discusses the importance of libraries for children in Oakland.
The major social problems our city faces are all predicated on kids success in school. The National Center for Education statistics shows that reading success is positively by access to public libraries, not only through materials, but through programs. Recent research shows that literacy behaviors learned in the first three years of life are the crucial building blocks to later reading success.
All of these behaviors are modeled in our libraries storytimes, which we offer twenty-six times weekly throughout the city, in addition to any scheduled on request by teachers. My office also coordinates a corps of volunteers who provide weekly storytimes in dozens of Head Starts and CDCs. If we can get to them at age zero, we can keep them for life.
This doesn’t happen by magic. It happens because the city’s voters made overwhelmingly clear in passing Measure Q that they wanted a full-time children’s librarian at every library.
You can view more videos of speakers in support of the Oakland Public Library below. This album isn’t at all exhaustive — there were many speakers who came to talk in support of the Second Start Adult Literacy program, the African American Museum and Library, the Tool Lending Library, and the library system in general. I didn’t have time record them all. Even doing these ones took a couple hours.
How you can help
If you want to get involved with the campaign to protect Oakland’s libraries, visit the Save Oakland Library website to find a toolkit for action and a list of volunteer opportunities. You can also get updates from Save Oakland Library on Facebook and SaveOPL on Twitter.