I want to use this month’s column to talk about investing. What does a Library Commissioner know about investing?
Well, to invest is to commit money or capital in order to gain a financial return. Our city budget in Oakland is a reflection of our investments, as taxpayers in Oakland, in the future of our city. Budgets also reflect our priorities as a city.
The budget for this year has allocated $204 million to police services, contrasted with $26 million for library services, $61 million to human services, and $15 million to housing and community development.
I live in Oakland, so I am as aware as anyone of the need for police services. But I maintain that we are under-investing in other services in Oakland.
The problem is that the police can’t do it alone. When we pay for police services, we are addressing symptoms of the problems facing Oakland, such as poverty, homelessness, and lack of opportunity and human capital.
On the other hand, when we pay for libraries, social services and housing, we are investing in building the human capital of Oaklanders; we are addressing root causes and investing in prevention. If we can focus on preventing people from becoming poor, or addicted, or incarcerated, or illiterate, we can save a lot of money—i.e., ”gain a financial return” on our investments in our city.
As we prepare for Oakland’s mid-cycle budget review, there will be scrambling among the constituents of all city services to try to restore funding that has been cut during the past several years. The library has lost its Bookmobile and branch locations are now open only five days a week, down from six days per week.
In a city like Oakland with significant crime, our libraries provide safe spaces for youth that are all too rare, where they can spend time after school and get help with schoolwork from caring adults.
Libraries are also critical spaces for the community to gather and learn together, for people to seek and apply for jobs and government services, and to get help with their technological, language, legal and tax needs.
As a proud Oaklander, I hope others will consider this perspective about our need to shift our investment strategy to cultivate more than simply law enforcement. Investing in human capital is a vital part of an effective crime-prevention strategy. Oakland’s public librarians do this vital work every single day—and they could do even more, with more resources.
It’s time to reexamine our priorities.
Shanthi Gonzales is Vice Chair of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission.
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.