Mayor, City Council Should Make Libraries a Budget Priority

Every year around this time, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council hold a series of public meetings regarding our city’s budget, which the council must pass it before the summer “recess” in July. The past few years our city budget process has been very contentious, as Mayor Reed has waged a war against city employees due to the administration’s inadequate funding of city employee contracts and pension obligations. That has directly, and negatively, affected the level of services provided to neighborhoods. Our community literally took to the streets and marched to City Hall protesting cuts to senior and youth centers. In the end, community centers were contracted out to local nonprofits. City employee jobs, library services, new city projects, and park maintenance efforts were all victims of budget cuts.

A couple of weeks ago at the District 3 budget hearing, many of our residents gave suggestions and ideas about the impact of this year’s budget. One of the hot issues that caught residents’ attention is the fate of public libraries. Did you know that your local neighborhood library might be closed on Fridays or Saturdays? All of our branches are only open four days out of the week. Some are open Monday-Thursday and others only Wednesday-Saturday. Heres is the full list of libraries.

Libraries, like Joyce Ellington Library or the Biblioteca Latino Americana, are only open Monday-Thursday. Both of these libraries are located in underserved neighborhoods. As a child, I loved going to my local library with my sister and cousin. We would read and make new friends. Our librarians were our heroes.

Our libraries continue to be a safe haven for children and youth. Having these libraries opened on a Friday and Saturday will be as beneficial to struggling neighborhoods, as they were to past generations. We want youth to utilize our library services, not our county jail system to become yet another sad statistic.

Malissa Magallanez of “Friends of Joyce Ellington” and members like Ana Ramirez of “Amigos de la Biblioteca” suggest changes to our current library schedule. These volunteer organizations deeply care for their branches. They help raise money from book sales to bake sales, and they have other creative fundraising methods. Magallanez elaborated: “Our City needs to find a way so that all branches are open on Saturday. This year’s budget will help us and we can finally reevaluate the ‘buddy schedule’ put in place years ago. That schedule is no longer working.” Magallanez and other members of the community are not asking to add more library days. We know the city will not be able to afford it. Our community suggests that we should keep the four-day schedules intact, but all libraries should be opened on weekends.

We hope the Library Commission and the council work towards this goal in this year’s budget. Reevaluating library schedules will help our communities all across our great city, like the Northside and Washington neighborhoods, which have suffered the brunt of the budget cuts these past few years. These neighborhoods need more services for our youth, not less, and libraries open up those possibilities for them.

Libraries should be a top priority for the mayor and council because our children’s education is the key to eliminating poverty and growing our economy. The goals and dream of children should be limitless, so it is time to reprioritize this year’s budget for them. Opening libraries on the weekends will be a start to getting our children’s quality of life back on track.

Omar Torres lives Washington community in the greater downtown San Jose area. He has served on the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee since 2007 and was recently re-elected to a fourth term in 2012. He also serves on the executive board of the California Democratic Party. Upon graduating from San Jose State University, he was hired to be the executive director of the Santa Maria Urban Ministry. He continues to be involved with the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association.

Omar Torres lives in the Washington community in the greater downtown San Jose area. He works as executive director of the Santa Maria Urban Ministry.

20 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this article. I agree that education and libraries are a vital tool to keep our youth off the streets, and that education opens doors for a better future.

    Having said that, in working with troubled families, and at risk youth for over 3 decades now, I think there is a bigger and more important topic that seems to remain unaddressed. That topic is parental involvement and supervision.

    In every case that I’ve dealt with, I see our youth longing for a Father and Mother who love them, support them, and spends time with them. In every adult case I’ve dealt with, I see the same thing.

    When I was growing up, my parents spent time doing our homework with us, they bought Encyclopedias and we sat and discovered so many things about math, sciences, different cultures, and society, TOGETHER. We went to church as a family, to parks, on long drives, etc.

    Things are different today, but they don’t have to be. Too often times I see parents using FREE programs, malls, the newest videos/games, computers, cellphones, as babysitters. I don’t think that is a good idea given what our kids are exposed to today.

    I personally think that we need to get back to the basics, and that is family, good parenting, and setting good examples for our children. Like you do, at the non profit you run.

    Asking for government money for things we should be providing our children with ourselves is not the answer to the problem, family and parental involvement is. The cost? Your time~

  2. Over the past several years, libraries have sprouted up all over the city, while the number of police officers has declined dramatically. Everyone knows what has happened to crime and public safety in the interim. Libraries and community centers are nice, but public safety is mandatory. It’s because of misplaced priorities that San Jose has declined to its current state.

  3. Libraries need to be open on weekends.  I don’t know how kids without access to the internet can get their schoolwork done.

    When the Santa Clara County Library started charging people that don’t live in that special district for a library card, the Library board voted to cover that fee for the children that attend school in the elementary and high school districts.  So the school children in the Cupertino and Fremont Union High School districts that live in West San Jose that had no library, because the library on Blaney is still closed, were able to use the Cupertino Branch library.

    http://cupertino.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/students-spared-from-80-library-card-for-non-residents-2

    San Jose is a crummy place to live, because its government doesn’t care about the real quality of life here.  They would rather piss money away on stadiums, airports and downtown.  If I had it to do all over again, I would not have bought my house in San Jose thirty-something years ago.

  4. Learning in libraries would be nice; parents guiding their children would be nice; more police would be nice too.

    Anybody got any real-world suggestions? 

    Till you do the politicians will make ‘feel-good-please-elect-me’ decisions.

    • Martin,
      Yes, I have a solution. Parents should be required to be with their children at all times when they are in libraries, and not allowed to run around unsupervised.

  5. This should be real simple to fix. Instead of being open Monday-Thursday, just shift the hours to Wednesday-Saturday. Presto, weekend hours. Then the hardworking taxpayers can actually use the facilities they paid for.

  6. Another Potato head that just doesnt get it.  As the father of 3 children (1 in high school, 1 in jr. High and 1 in elementary ) I have seen on a daily basis what use our libraries get . They are a colossal waste of taxpayer monies! they are nothing more than daycare centers .  I know of at least 10 parents that openly admit that their children go to the libraries “to but some time” till mom or dad get off work and can be picked up. I have seen these children at the libraries and they are not reading, they are not studying , they are not sitting quietly. They are rough housing , they are talking loudly, they are flirting.
    Im all for education , absolutely ! but it just makes sense that in this day and age , a much smaller facility with more computers would have been a smarter move. you mention the Biblioteca Latina Americana , NEVER have i seen more than 8 people in there at any given time .very few kids actually read books anymore. They still read but now its on a kindle, or ipad or some other computer. Local schools will be textbook free by the end of 2014 (at least in this district)
    Only a fool thinks that libraries are a safe haven , they are not.

    • I’ve been in the Santa Clara City Library; the Cupertino, Los Altos and Saratoga branches of the county library; and the Blaney, San Tomas Aquino, Rose Garden, Willow Glen, Alum Rock, Cottle and main branches of the San Jose Library, and have never experienced this.

      If this is really the case, then I would expect that schools are no different.  If parents are going to treat libraries as day care then the same has to apply to schools.  No one is arguing for getting rid of schools.

    • First of all, your personal attacks are disgusting!

      Second of all, libraries as “daycare centers” are not the point of this article.

      You complain about this issue, so what are your solutions? Crap on the kids that want to learn?

      Instead of complaining, or personal attacking the author, why don’t you help him create solutions to the problems affecting our youth and their education?

      • Jordan , PAY Attention !! Im all for education , what im not in favor of is wasting taxpayer monies on Facilities that are over sized and under utilized . Kids that want to study and learn just need a quiet place and a computer. Books are being fazed out in all schools , and books in a library might as well be in a museum . Kids are on iPads, apple Lap tops , PC’s , Smart phones . We need to be smarter in how we assist those that want to learn , thats it plain and simple.
        So maybe next time you might want to try reading “the Comments” all the way thru , or simply re-read them to see if you missed anything . Not that I have anything to prove to you , but Ive been heavily involved with at risk kids for the last 20 yrs. How about you??

      • Jordan,
        Don’t shoot the messenger. You may not like the truth, but, many parents DO use libraries as “day care centers.”

        Having said that, Omar is an awesome guy. I work with him and know what an incredible job he does in the community.

        Like Omar, I too work with at risk youth. I don’t need a library to do it either.

  7. Omar, one thing you may not know that has upset many library patrons is that under Mayor Susan Hammer, the founder of the San Jose Public Library was disrespected and disappeared. 

    That’s no reason to punish the library system, but the founder was an early mayor of San Jose, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine who saved his first year’s salary as mayor and donated it all back to the city council with the request that it be used to establish the first free lending library in San Jose, the institutional ancestor of the San Jose Public Library.

    It is unfortunate that Hammer sent out this message to a large segment of our city that their historical successes and services were to be disrespected.  And that their support for the library was not wanted.

    [I’m a member of a library friends group.]

    • Mr Warner, who is the founder of SJ Public Libraries and how exactly did former Mayor Hammer disrespect him/her?

      I am unfamiliar with what you’re referring to but would like to know if you’d be willing to share more specifically. 

      I agree with Mr Torres’ point in his article that libraries should be open on Saturday’s.  I also advocate for them to be open afterschool hours/evening.  Students in school during the day need access to the libraries for research and the focus on morning hours and limited weekend hours works against the students and parents who need the service most.

      BTW, thank you for your volunteering as a library friend member.  The friends group at the Alum Rock library are always helpful and they have great book sales

      • That the founder of the San Jose Public Library is unknown to you is good evidence of how Mayor Susan Hammer in her eight years of administrative leadership managed to push his name onto a plaque in an upstairs room of the library where no one will see it.

        The founder was former Mayor Adolph Pfister, immigrant, and San Jose mayor from 1870 to 1873.  He saved his entire first year’s mayoral salary and gifted it back to the city to start the first free lending library which is the direct institutional ancestor of the present library system.  He was the 15th mayor following incorporation of San Jose in 1850.

        He was a member of the Democratic Party and elected to the mayor’s office twice.

        A book published in 1888 said that, at that time, he was the president of the San Jose Free Library…so obviously he was deeply connected to the institution.

        It’s a shame that he has been so ignored.  Note that Susan Hammer has her name plastered all over San Jose Repertory Theatre.  [No mistake, that’s how they spell theater.]

        At the very least, the first floor lobby should be named for former Mayor Pfister with a permanent display about him, his services, and his times.

      • Aware D5,

        Libraries are being used as day care centers. Parents are RARELY with their children. Most of these kids are unsupervised, and they ARE NOT reading or studying books.

        • Maybe we can find some “outsourced” employees to enforce that new rule? 

          There’s tons of actual crimes being committed with little enforcement… additional library regulations shouldn’t even be a discussion until the core services are at acceptable levels.

          Libraries are not a priority, they are duplicitous luxury.  We have County libraries, school libraries, vast online resources… talk about fiddling while Rome burns.