The Library is Still Worth Funding

It is hard to believe that it has been almost 15 years since the Library 2000 campaign to fund the new Main Library. Every time I go by the corner of Oak and Lincoln I recall some part of many meetings we had, the door-to-door and phone campaigning and fund raising that went into that landmark vote. Today, the Main Library is so well used it is easily taken for granted and forget the cramped confines of the old Carnegie Library building.

In passing Measure O with more than 76 percent in favor, Alamedans solidly confirmed the importance of a new Main Library. Voters committed to fund a $10 million construction bond, that when added to a $15.5 million awarded to Alameda from the State Public Library Construction Fund, paid for the new Main Library and substantial improvements at the West End and Bay Farm Island branches.

Measure O was proof positive that Alamedans value the library and it is clear today that the library is viewed as a vital part of our City. On any given day before the doors open, there is a gathering of people waiting to get in and use the facilities. The Main Library has grown beyond simple book lending, with live programs, art exhibits, study areas for students, public access computers and community meeting spaces. The Main Library has also been called upon to meet the library needs of the city’s schools with the mandate from the State Public Library Construction fund grant. This mandate is even more critical with school librarians now a casualty of budget cuts at Alameda Unified School District.

In spite of the dire straits of city budgets, the library has managed to keep excellence in its service to the community. Partnership with Alameda volunteers, who continue the hard work of raising funds to supplement the library budget, has been critical in maintaining this excellence.

For decades, the Friends of the Alameda Library have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars and continue to do so through book sales and by running the popular Dewey’s Café in the Main Library. The Alameda Free Library Foundation has launched its "50 by ‘15" campaign to raise $50,000 for library materials. As of mid-January, the Foundation has raised nearly $40,000 in contributions toward that goal.

These noble efforts may not be enough. The library budget has been cut from $2.1 million in fiscal year 11-12 to $1.96 million in the current fiscal year 14–15. To balance the current budget, $100,000 of remaining Measure O funds was included in the current and last year’s budget for the library, meaning that fiscal year 15-16 will be short!

Even though the overall city spending has increased during the same time from expenditures of $70 million in fiscal year 11-12 to $74.8 million in fiscal year 14-15, revenues have not. The city has resorted to use one-time funds and advances to balance budgets.

According to the June 11, 2013, transmittal letter from the City Manager John Russo to the City Council, without proposed changes the budget could end up with a $7.5 million deficit on top of a negative fund balance of $900,000. The bottom line is that the Alameda Library is very likely to be headed for more cuts unless new revenue is found.

City officials are wont to have Alamedans "value" services these days when it comes to making budget cuts and more importantly, applying residents’ needs to long- range financial planning decisions. To ensure the future of the library it is up to us to speak out and let city officials know that the library serves a critical function for Alameda.

We need to continue to provide support as in the past and insist that the long term plans for a sustainable city budget mandate funding the library.

Frank Matarrese is a former city councilman and former co-chair of Library 2000.