Welcome to the Oakland Library Advisory Commission’s inaugural column!

This column will focus on keeping the Oakland community informed about what the commission is doing to support Oakland’s libraries.

You may be asking: ‘What is the Library Advisory Commission?’  The LAC exists to:

  • advocate for strong and vibrant library services;
  • to advise the library administration and elected officials on policies regarding the library, and
  • to provide oversight for Measure Q funds, which are the primary source of revenue for Oakland’s libraries.

The primary question occupying the thoughts of library folks across the country is ‘What does a 21st century library look like and do?’

Our own libraries in Oakland now offer downloadable music and magazines as well as e-books. This year, Bexar County, Texas, opened a branch of its library system in San Antonio that has no books at all!  Instead, it is a digital library and community space, which lends e-reader devices and offers technology classes.

Libraries are special places for me. As a child, I had two working parents who didn’t particularly like each other, and so we didn’t do a lot of things as a family. I spent a lot of my time at the library, and I was nurtured by both the materials and the people who worked there.

As an adult, libraries are places where the community organizations I love can meet and make their neighborhoods stronger, discussing important issues facing the community, learning together in classes on immigration, health care, crafts, first aid, tax assistance, and any number of other subjects. This is where I see the future of libraries—as spaces for building community and learning, as individuals and in community.

We live in a free enterprise system, and this has its advantages for us as a society. But free enterprise falls short in building community, because that is something that is hard to monetize. In corporate speak, there is no revenue model that incentivizes private companies to finance and support community-building.

What do I mean when I talk about space for community-building?

I mean spaces where Oaklanders don’t have to pay membership dues or buy anything to enter and hang out, where they can stay as long as they like, and their topics of conversation are not limited by the host of the space.

Libraries are places where people can come together to plan for their work together, whatever that may be—a community garden, a neighborhood watch group, a voter registration drive. We need more of this in Oakland, because involved communities are resilient communities, better able to withstand daily stresses such as crime, as well as larger crises like earthquakes.

The Oakland Public Library is one of the treasures of our city, providing community spaces that are critical to the health of the city.

However, the library is facing a budget shortfall of $3 million dollars beginning July 2015. This shortfall, if left unresolved, could lead to the closure of several of these important community spaces, and it exceeds the library’s annual collections budget, or what the library spends annually on digital and print resources and subscriptions.

We on the commission believe that every library in Oakland needs to remain open, because they are vital to the health of our neighborhoods, serving as places to gather, places to learn, and also places to obtain materials (even tools and seeds!) for Oakland families.

Library advocates will be meeting with elected officials in the coming months to ask for their support in closing this budget gap. If you also believe that all of these vital community spaces should be kept open, we encourage you to visit our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/OPLadvocate) or come to a Commission meeting to learn what you can do to preserve funding for libraries.

Commission meeting information may be found at http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/about/library-advisory-commission.

More to come next month!

Shanthi Gonzales is Vice Chair of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission (LAC).

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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