Viewpoint - September 21, 2011

Guest opinion: The rules that will guide Atherton library decision

by Denise Kupperman

A recent article in the Almanac covered many salient points about the proposed new Atherton Library. While the article was in general balanced in its effort to provide information, some statements need clarification, especially those concerning the terms of the agreement between the San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Authority ("JPA") and the Town of Atherton.

Given the importance of this project and its potential to bring the community together in building a lasting place to delight, engage, learn and inspire, it is essential to share and provide the community accurate factual information about the project. We encourage residents to contact the Atherton Library Steering Committee, or refer to the San Mateo County Library website:, or attend one of the committee's regular meetings.

All members of the San Mateo Library system contribute a pre-determined portion of their residential property taxes, approximately 3.2 cents per $100 of assessed property, to support library services. This proportion was established in 1978 with the Passage of Proposition 13.

If the cost to provide basic library services within a jurisdiction is less than the property tax collected and attributable to funding basic library services, the member jurisdiction generating the funds holds the excess, defined as the Library Donor City Fund. Currently the Town of Atherton has accumulated $5.6 million in its Library Donor City Fund, and we can reasonably expect to continue accumulating additional excess funds annually. These funds are restricted for library purposes only and can only be spent on library related activities such as facility maintenance, construction, technology, expanding library collections and library programs.

In accordance with the terms of the JPA, this library fund cannot directly fund school libraries. Library funds are to be used for providing library services for all community members. School libraries, while essential to our community, serve a distinct population and are not available to all. The JPA and the Atherton library can and does, however, participate in outreach programs that enhance the public school libraries (all done in accordance with the terms of the JPA).

The Atherton City Council established the Atherton Library Steering Committee ("ALBSC") in August 2010. The committee was to build on the work performed by the Atherton Library Task Force. After many months of study, with the direction of the City Council, numerous open committee meetings, three community workshops, and the efforts of expert professional consultants, city staff involvement and thousands of hours of volunteer time, the steering committee is preparing to present its recommendation to the Atherton City Council.

Despite its physical limitations, the current Atherton Library has seen an average increase in visits and usage over the last five years, as have the majority of American libraries.

Service area population is only one of many factors that determine the size of a library. The types of services, collections and programs desired by the community and the changes taking place in technology and the delivery of library services are equally important. The size of the Atherton branch library service area, as noted in the recent Almanac article, has been consistent for many years. Types of spaces and library size will be studied and evaluated with the JPA and community throughout the process.

Few contemporary institutions have the ability or incentive to nurture ideas of all kinds, regardless of commercial value. Libraries will continue to optimize and facilitate lifelong learning and inquiry, regardless of whether that information is packaged as a book or in the Cloud.

Denise Kupperman is a member of the Atherton Library Steering Committee


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