What does the Oakland Public Library (OPL) have going on that you need to know about but don’t? Chances are a whole heck of a lot. I walked into the Main Branch one recent afternoon and left with my spirit soaring and my eyes aloft, feeling like a born-again member- and I’m here to spread the gospel.

Want to read the latest issue of the Economist (or, ahem, US Weekly) on your phone or tablet? Just reach for your OPL card. You have full access to those magazines and an extensive database of others for free with your OPL membership.

Thinking of gardening this summer and eager to start growing your own vegetables or expand your current vegetable garden? Start by heading to a Seed Lending Library for free seeds.

Hoping to take your sweetie on a date to see the latest exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum? Flex that OPL card again and save $30 by printing a free museum pass for two to that museum—or a free or significantly discounted pass to a whole host of others.

Doing repairs around the house this weekend and need a tool? Come by the Tool Lending Library to check out a wide range of free tools suited to all types of home improvements and repairs.

Feeling crafty and DIY-y—this is Oakland, after all—and want to try something new? Sew your own tote with Oakland-based Rock Paper Scissors Collective at OPL. Absolutely no experience or materials needed.

Or, maybe all you need at the end of a long workweek is a good stretch? Toss on some comfortable clothes and head to the library on the weekend to learn easy, essential, and free office yoga from a yoga expert.

The list of free activities and resources goes on and on. (For more on innovative teen services, for instance, see this Oakland Local story from last year.) Who knew? Not me and, likely, not you.

Save Oakland Library (SOL) knows about them, though, and wants you to know in particular. More importantly, they want you to know that you’d miss these programs and countless others hosted by the library if the Oakland City Council and Mayor Jean Quan do not take major action and cover an anticipated $2.5-$3.5 million budget shortfall that threatens to close six to eight branches next year.

Formed last fall, SOL is a coalition of community organizations fighting to keep OPL open in the face of budgetary instabilities in recent years, says one of SOL’s leaders, Helen Bloch. Specifically, they are trying to find a more sustainable and long-lasting library budget, and they need your help.

In a June 6th report presented to the City Council and Mayor, the City’s budget office determined that the existing financial instabilities stem from an over-reliance on revenue from Measure Q, a parcel tax passed in 2004 and originally only intended as an enhancement measure for library services. Measure Q and the General Fund, which funds all city agencies, together comprise the vast majority of funding for OPL. However, as the report details, “since its passage in 2004, Measure Q parcel tax revenue has gone from a means to both ‘retain’ and ‘enhance’ library services in Oakland, to mere retention of basic services.”

To illustrate, in the 2003-04 fiscal year, the General Fund covered 63 percent of OPL’s costs and Measure Q covered the remaining 37 percent. By the 2011-12 fiscal year, however, the roles were fully reversed: the General Fund covered 37 percent of OPL’s costs and Measure Q covered 63 percent.

Because of SOL’s activism and efforts before the City Council and Mayor, the situation has improved. The City Council voted on July 1st to “[r]eserve $500,000 for an Oakland Public Library contingency for potential future funding deficiencies.”

But this is just a start and SOL and its supporters do not show signs of slowing down in their fight for a more sustainable library budget. To get there, they are asking for your help. Start by “liking” their Facebook page here to stay posted on what’s happening and get involved in future actions. In addition, find out more about supporting OPL by joining one of several active Friends of the Oakland Public Library groups or by donating to OPL directly. More information is available here.

In many ways, OPL is the original co-working space in Oakland, providing a dynamic and enriching space for thousands of children, teens, and adults each year. Co-working spaces are all the rage in our city right now and for good reason: they provide the opportunity to collaborate with the diverse groups of people who make up Oakland, to share collective space and inspiration, and to work in community. Let’s not see this original co-working space wane — because, as OPL’s website reminds us, it is truly “Your Library.”

2 Responses

  1. Kathryn Sterbenc

    Advocates are working hard to make sure all Oakland library lovers stay informed about this threat to the OPL system. If you want to keep up with the latest news, activities and grass-roots efforts related to saving the Oakland Public Library, contact OPL Advocates at OaklandLAC@gmail.com.

  2. Oakie

    I am all in favor of our libraries, as everyone here. However it is apparently not a part of our political discussion to critically analyze WHY it is that there’s never enough budget available to perform those functions adequately. There seems to be only one answer here: more and ever higher taxation. OUSD wants a new parcel tax to support their latest buzzword scheme, Linked Learning. The city is going to put a renewal of the Measure Y parcel tax on the November ballot, threatening fewer cops if it fails (which actually DID occur after APPROVING Measure Y the first time-how ironic is that!).

    This is a fool’s errand. And yet it’s “crickets” when it comes to having a real, hard, political discussion about our governance and the taxation necessary to support satisfactory functioning of these required services.

    Libraries are, indeed, one of the essential functions of a city (plus policing, fire control, road maintenance and parks). Is anyone here claiming that any one of these essential functions are properly and adequately performed in Oakland?

    OUSD has an annual budget of $550 Million, which represents $15,000 per student under their direct control. The city has a General Fund budget now approaching $500 Million plus another $500 Million spent through other funding sources (which our politicians never seem to want to admit, as if to imply it doesn’t exist).

    Everett Derkson once said about legislating appropriation bills “a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, pretty soon you’re talking real money!”

    That was for a country of 200,000,000 people (at the time).

    Here we are a city of almost/barely 400,000. And we’re being taxed and our government is spending somewhere around $1.5 Billion each and every year between city government and our school district. We pay some of the highest taxes in the state of California, which is no slouch in burdening citizens with high taxes relative to the other 49 states. My property tax bill is starting to look like an extremely long receipt generated at some of those big box stores. When I arrived in California in 1978 the sales tax was 5%. Now it is almost exactly 10%.

    Add to that the financial malfeasance of our city not realistically funding retirement (for work already performed), which adds another $1.5 Billion in unrecognized debt. This was once called “generational theft” by Rebecca Kaplan because the work had already been performed and pension benefits earned and future generations will have to pay, although now that she wants to be mayor, she’s mum about that now.

    In another comment regarding OUSD, I documented how the school district employs, for example, a gardener that cost in excess of $100,000 to cover salary, benefits, retirement and direct supervision overhead (but not the overhead of dozens in the superintendent’s office or the other myriad obscure and byzantine overhead functions at OUSD).

    Recently Kaplan grandstanded a demand that the city buy a riding mower so we can have the grass in the city’s parks mowed regularly. Of course she didn’t bother to check which department has that responsibility, but none the less, what came out was the annual cost to employ an operator plus support was $250,000. That didn’t even include the cost of the mower.

    Some of the readers here employ gardeners to maintain their homes. I am pretty sure they’re not paying anywhere near a pro-rated share of that gardener’s cost to OUSD, or this lawn mower for our parks. If we did, we would be out there doing it ourselves BECAUSE WE COULD NOT AFFORD IT.

    Why is this so expensive for our government when we are fully aware of the market price for this kind of service?

    Did you know that it would be illegal for our city to hire outside services to perform something “deemed” to be the “right” of city employees to perform? It’s in our City Charter, and now that prohibition to outsourcing is included in every union contract agreed to by our politicians who do the negotiations.


    I point out here (framed in a question to Kaplan, who seems allergic to addressing any meaningful issues in our city, preferring sound meaningless sound bit drivel like “our city is not ungovernable, it’s ungoverned”) that the union employees of the Oakland Museum sued us because we outsourced the work after having city employee operate it when we were flush with money. OM is a very nice thing for us to have, but it is most definitely NOT an essential city service like crime and fire suppression, or libraries.

    Since the City Charter prohibits it, and the contract with those employees prohibits it, we no longer have any right to stop using city employees for that function, even when we don’t have sufficient budget to pay for it. It is, in essence lifetime employment no matter the cost or the inferiority of the performance.

    That case by OM employees cost us $150,000 for each worker transferred to an outsourced non-profit agency. If we have 5,000 employees in the city for which that same prohibition applies, the net value of that clause has an implied burden on the taxpayer of $500,000,000.

    For just a few words in the charter.

    So if we simply had the political will to reverse that clause in the Charter to say that if a city function can be performed more effectively by outside services for less than the cost of city employees to do it, it should be obligatory rather than illegal, we could drastically reduce the cost of those services.

    Obviously we’re not talking police or fire employees, at it should be argued that outside services cannot perform those services as effectively. But what about gardeners, painters, electricians, street sweepers, plumbers, janitors etc.? And it should be stressed that even when using outside services, it should be required and proof demanded that all California employment rights must be fully enforced under any contract with the city; those same rights we all enjoy.

    I would argue that this change would result in sufficient funds to actually deliver the essential services for our city without increasing any taxes.

    We have 20 people running for mayor this year. How many of them have addressed this issue? And how many would take the kind of bold stand that would actually turn this city around?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.