Viewpoint - September 7, 2011

Guest opinion: Atherton setting course for new library

by Jerry Carlson

Decision time for the proposed new Atherton library is fast approaching. The final scheduled community meeting will be held Sept. 8 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Holbrook-Palmer Park Pavilion.

People have asked why the town is planning to spend $5 million on a new library at a time when it is cutting the size of its staff. The answer: a portion of our property taxes go directly into a library fund administered by the San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Board (JPB). Atherton's library is one of the 12 libraries administered by the JPB. Library funding from Atherton taxpayers is identified separately and used to pay for local library expenses.

Each year the Atherton account has been accumulating an additional surplus, which at the end of June amounted to $5.566 million. These funds can only be used for library-related use and cannot be transferred to the town's general fund. The library fund can only be used for construction and maintenance of the library.

The current library is housed in a converted house with about 4,790 square feet of space. It is in need of a seismic upgrade, which would cost around $400,000. The City Council appointed an Atherton Library Steering Committee (ALSC) to consider the alternative of building a new facility rather than trying to upgrade the present structure.

The library committee is considering a much larger structure of 11,000 to 13,000 square feet to be built on the present library site or in Holbrook-Palmer Park. At the previous two community outreach meetings, the committee estimates approximately 80 residents showed up to voice their ideas about the project.

The library committee is expected to present its site recommendations to the town's Park and Recreation Committee on Oct. 5, and on Oct. 18, the library committee plans to ask the council to approve the proposed site.

Some have questioned why the proposed library needs to be 2.3 to 2.5 times the size of the present library. The larger size is necessary because the JPB assigns the territory each library is intended to serve, and the territory assigned to the Atherton library includes other areas besides Atherton.

In assessing the needed size of the Atherton library, the 9,200 residents of West Menlo Park, Green Acres, Sequoia Tract and Menlo Oaks neighborhoods have been added to the 7,300 Atherton residents. The library taxes from these additional areas do not, however, wind up in the Atherton library account, and, unfortunately, no statistics are kept by the Atherton library that would indicate where current users reside.

Questions have been raised about the future function of a library in light of the information technology changes rapidly taking place. The advent of e-books and the ease of access to on-line library materials and documents will have a major influence on the role of a library.

New roles for the Atherton library are expected to include archiving the town's documents and artifacts now housed in the Heritage Room. The library committee also envisions the library becoming a "community center" with space for community meetings and activities.

One of the complications is the council does not know what exactly is in the future for a new town center. That future will be dependent on raising private funding to cover most of the cost. The town center planning is being done separately from the library project. On Oct. 12 the three finalists will present architectural design concepts, at the Pavilion, between 6 to 9 p.m.

Finally, a philosophical question has been raised about spending money on "bricks and mortar" or directing some of the library funds to help out local school libraries. Certainly, there is a great need for such help as schools are forced to cut back their own funding for libraries. The JBP has indicated assisting both public and private school libraries would be a valid use of taxpayer library funds.

Library decisions are about to be made. In terms of taxpayer dollars, this will be the largest civic project in the town's history. The size and location of the library will be inherited by future generations. We still have the opportunity to help shape what the library's future in Atherton.

Jerry Carlson is a member of the Atherton City Council.


Posted by Huh?, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 9, 2011 at 8:51 am

Where's the opinion in this article? What's Jerry Carlson's opinion on the new library?

Posted by Jenny Redo, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Has this group gone into Selby Lane School's library in Atherton? While a beautiful location and building, their library needs everything but the bricks and mortar. They need librarians, books, reference materials etc. Why don't we spend the money there?

Posted by True Jenny, a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 9, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Atherton doesn't seem to care about Selby Lane School. Just build a new location. A 11,000 square foot location. How do they expect to pay all the workers that it is going to take to keep the library open, and grounds clean. Lets not think about that, or care about a school in Atherton we could ten years ago send our children to. That would be practically Jenny what are you thinking. Stop using your brain, and caring about kids in our town. Get with the Atherton program.

Posted by Susan Speicher, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 10, 2011 at 6:39 am

I agree with Jenny Redo that some of the money should be used to upgrade and staff our neighborhood school library.
With school funding cut to the bare bone, Selby Lane School, needs all the community support we can provide.

Posted by Gresham, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 10, 2011 at 7:12 am

The funds are designated for the library -- the PUBLIC library.

As much as Selby Lane School needs assistance, it would be wrong to take it from the pot of funds set aside for the Atherton PUBLIC library. To benefit Selby Lane School, their library would need to be made open to ALL during business hours.

Given the library's clientele, which includes transients seeking free Internet to look at pornography, I suggest that it is a bad idea to make the school's library public.

Selby would be better off fundraising through a foundation to improve its facilities. It's a shame what's become of that school. How many Atherton residents send their kids there? My guess is not many. Tragic, given the proximity to so many Atherton homes.

Posted by Is this right, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 10, 2011 at 12:10 pm

You are suggesting to use Atherton tax dollars to build a larger porn viewing facility in the park for transients? Will they then stay in the park after viewing the porn? Why not keep them close to the police station?

Carlson wrote: "The JBP has indicated assisting both public and private school libraries would be a valid use of taxpayer library funds." To Jenny's point some of this money could be given to any of the five or six school libraries already in Atherton.

Posted by Selby Lane School Parent, a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I am a resident who lives 2 houses away from having an Atherton address. I do have a child who I Choose to put in "that" school. Having the opportunity to benefit by a gift from Atherton Library Funding would be much appreciated it would also seem better choice than building a state of the pornograhpy site that will house transients
That statement alone will keep me from letting my children even use the "public library" period!
And to Gresham - how dare you refer to Selby Lane and it "being a shame of what has become of that school"! I think it is a shame that more Atherton residents don't take pride in this neighborhood school and help to support it and it's wonderful faculty who choose to work there and serve your community of Atherton!

Posted by Gresham, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Selby Lane Parent -

I think we're saying the same thing, though obviously the way I chose to say it hit a nerve.

Selby Lane School could be better with community support. It's a shame it's not. It's a shame the surrounding Atherton residents don't use their considerable means to make it a better place. It's a shame they have let it become less academically competitive than the other elementary schools serving Atherton (thus, the reference to what it has become).

I've no doubt the dedicated teachers are making exceptional contributions with their limited resources.

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