Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Renovation Re-Opening of Elmhust - December 1

The Elmhurst Branch has been closed since July for much needed renovations. The renovations are now near completion with the Branch slated for a re-open on December 1, 2010. There will be a Grand Opening Celebration around the first of the year (January 2011). Watch for information here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

new email address

Friends of the Elmhurst Branch Library now has a new email address. You can contact us at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The High Cost of Closing or Limiting Libraries & Library Services

Much discussion has been going on regarding the City Budget and how to keep in solvent. One suggestion is to cut back library services, hours of operations and staff. The budget deficit has come about mostly by the recent global economic recession crisis. This has spilled over into nearly every city in the nation. Finding solutions and balancing budgets are not tasks for the faint of heart. Recognizing this, we (as library supporters) offer for your consideration the hidden costs of taking away library services during such times of crisis as this.

Safe Havens and Study Resources for School Children

Oakland's school children rely on public libraries for afterschool time, study time, research for homework, homework preparation, access to Internet resources and much more. Only three public schools in the city have a public library. Limiting access to branch libraries will mean these kids have no other place to go after school to prepare for their school assignments. The reasons are many. Some kids have living situations that hinder study at home like parents with drug or mental illness, no light to study by due to loss or lack of income. In Elmhurst, many kids cannot afford a bus trip to the Main Library, so closed days at local branches spells a day without study. These kids often have no other place to go so they end up on the street where they are face to face with gangs, drug dealers, prostitution rings, street gambling and other criminal elements making them easy prey to fall victim to becoming involved in criminal activities. This puts more of a strain on the criminal justice system which is already over-burdened for lack of adequate police coverage. In short, isn't it better to give at-risk kids a safe place like the low cost public library where they can play computer video games rather than being on the street dealing or taking drugs and ending up in a high-cost public facility like city jails or juvenile detention? What is the cost for a kid turned bad for lack of a safe, free place like a library to go to end up getting involved with a street gang then shooting and killing someone? Our community recently paid dearly with the loss of four highly trained and valued police officers. All were victims of someone who took the wrong path in life in problem-riddled neighborhood. Encouraging kids with low-cost libraries to provide community services with many hidden and unforeseen benefits is a very cheap way to help the budget recover.

Employment and Educational Resources

Public libraries are also now places where many who cannot afford a computer at home come to the library to have access to job and educational resources. At a time when our economy is in such dire straits, is it really economical to reduce accessibility to the only place these citizens have to go to look for work or re-educate themselves to find jobs in a field they can get employment? It is incumbent upon the government to encourage economic growth, job retraining for the unemployed, incentives for new and existing businesses to grow and hire new employees and public libraries are here to provide these very informational services. Our flailing economy requires we have adequate library services to assist in economic recovery.

Community Resources

Many in our community rely on the public libraries for access to many community resources otherwise unavailable. Most current branch hours are only available to non-working people. Branches are only open into the evening one day a week and often close by 5:30PM on other days. Reducing hours and days open, decreases the chances citizens have to make use of the resources necessary that libraries were created to make available to the public in the first place. For example, finding books on home repairs and improvements so properties continue to be kept up at a time when many can no longer afford to pay for home services like plumbing, minor repairs, cosmetic improvements, or other repairs that do not require a lot of skill to master and can be easily learned from a book. In a tight economy, many are looking for ways to stretch the few dollars they have to maintain a decent quality of living and not allow properties to fall into a state of disrepair that leads to lower property values. The news is full of stories of increased patronage to public libraries by citizens who are looking for a job, saving money on expensive books, DVDs, video games, magazine subscriptions all available at public libraries for free. In the current real estate crisis, it makes no good sense to take away the major means citizens have for trying to hold on to what value they have left in their homes and personal discretionary income budgets by making it more difficult (and expensive) for citizens to accomplish this. Reducing library hours balances the city budget in the short term but bludgeons it in the long term.


With branches being open fewer hours and having less active security, especially in view of the fact the Mayor and Council want to cut police services, makes unoccupied public buildings like libraries a prime target for vandalism and other crimes. Five years ago when I became involved with the Elmhurst Friends, we had serious problems with trespassing. There were prostitutes turning tricks on the grounds, street people using the front lawn and flower beds as a public toilet, trash, broken liquor bottles and other safety hazards everywhere. Citizens had become fearful of visiting and utilizing the branch resources due to these issues. It took us years of hard work to reverse this trend. Reducing hours, staff and public availability to Elmhurst branch (and other branches) will only open the door for criminal activities like this to return. We will have lost all the ground we have gained. The costs will not be in dollars and cents. It will greatly impact the morale and well-being of the community. Can Oakland really afford that? We wholeheartedly say, it cannot and should not.

Senior Services

It is a well known fact that seniors do better and thrive in communities where they have access to social networks. Being on fixed incomes and often limited in their range of mobility, local branches offer seniors a venue that is safe, comfortable and secure to go to get out of the house, meet other people in the community and keep their minds and spirits active and involved in local social network. Seniors prepare the way for the coming generations and the public library is one of the few places left where social action between children and elders exist. At Elmhurst Friends, we have seen seniors helping young children find things for a school project when understaffed and overworked library staff could not devote the proper time to their junior patrons. We have volunteers to provide fill-in services that an already tight library staff budget cannot provide. Further cuts to library services will likely weaken the structure to where these kinds of community-based structures fall apart completely. Can our communities remain cohesive without adequate library services? We do not believe it can.

Is it not already too much that the City is considering the reduction of an already inadequate police force, the complete elimination of park rangers to our world class parks that will soon be staffed by OPD that cannot possibly come up to the task of patrolling and maintaining our parks while keeps our homes, city streets and businesses safe? These are other vitally important topics that need to be addressed as well but is beyond the scope of this blog's topic. The public safety is all anchored by the positive force for change that comes through and from public libraries. The Public Library is the cornerstone of the community. Public Libraries are the anchor that holds it all together. It is the last place to which a city should cut services when faced with serious budgetary challenges. When the city council and mayor have given up their personal salaries and high paid staff and other city perks for two years then come to the citizens and say we need to cut these services, then perhaps they'll better understand and we citizens will be more open and willing to listen to such ludicrous proposals.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Support Friends of Elmhurst

50% of all royalty proceeds from the sale of all I Love FOEL products at my Zazzle store will go to Friends of Elmhurst Branch Library to directly benefit the library. If you have a message or special artwork you'd like to use to get the message out, you can even customize your own from any of dozens of different products from t-shirts to bumper stickers, tennis shoes, skateboards, postage stamps, buttons, magnets, keychains, postcards and more.

Oakland Public Libraries need your help--particularly Elmhurst Branch which lies in the heart of East Oakland where poverty and crime are high. Many kids are the victims of substance abuse parents and many more are from single parent homes. To get ahead here often requires nothing short of miracles. Hope is often a four-letter word. The City of Oakland must cut the budget and libraries have become a major target. Libraries provide a safe haven for kids--particularly in East Oakland where Elmhurst is located.

Public schools here do not have libraries. They rely on the public library to assist kids in school. Library hours are being cut, staff reduced, new collections halted. These kids often cannot study at home as their family may be too poor to pay the electric bill so there are no lights to study under. Many kids are crack babies being raised by grandparents with limited resources and waning energies. Others have no privacy at home so to study means going to the library.

Computers with Internet access are not found in very many homes in East Oakland. Kids, and many adults, have to go to the public library for that. Our branch is the cornerstone of our community. It serves the elderly by providing a vital social network, access to materials they cannot afford on a fixed income, Internet access in a part of Oakland where poverty and illiteracy is high. It serves the underprivileged and unemployed with resources to build a resume, do a job search, prepare for special skills education to get a better job. In short, our branch library is the hub of our community. Without adequate library hours, this vulnerable neighborhood will put kids on the streets, seniors shut in, unemployeds and underemployeds with nowhere to turn for assistance.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Should Oaklanders Sue the City?

Yes, Oakland City Council may very likely be in violation of Measure Q but I'd not be too quick and very cautious to file a law suit. While it sounds good on the surface, we do have a budgetary crisis. Suing the city would cost the city a lot of money. Who ends up paying for that? Oaklanders. We take money right out of our own pockets. The city has had a number of law suits recently and paid out millions in damages. That's money we could use for libraries, police, road repairs. We don't have enough money to do that already. We have to concentrate on getting what money there is allocated in better ways. Remember, libraries are only 3% of the City's budget. That comes out of the general fund. Look at the pie chart on page 3 of the attached document. What other places can money come from? There is not much room for shifting it around from one place to another. 

I recently read that real estate is in even bigger trouble with properties being underwater at an all time high (62%) Property taxes are at an all time high. While it may seem that the City Council is being derelict in their duties (and I'm not saying that they aren't completely) they are also struggling with unprecedented shortfalls. We ALL need to get creative and understand the big picture, I believe. A lot of the taxes the city collects go to the state. The state's shortfall is even bigger and Prop 13 has state legislators hands tied in a big way. What we need is a gigantic tax reform in this state—one that reflects the current recession crisis. If we don't deal with that, all the tweaking to city budgets and squeaking about how thinly the bread has to be buttered won't cut it. The "butter" is being bled away from the cities and into the state coffers and there is less money due to large numbers of foreclosures and other shortfalls in state tax revenues. There is a lobby with big money that has always pushed Californians for restricting taxes and reducing the size of government. I'm talking about the folks behind Prop 13 and other propositions like this. Until we as Californians wake up and stop buying into their propaganda we'll just keep making a very bad situation become catastrophic. It's been happening for years and now the recession is tipping the scales and it is about to become a flood.

We are in for very tough economic times—like on the scale of the Great Depression—and we better start thinking smartly and creatively if we don't want another 1930's. I see history repeating itself and it is so avoidable if we just listen and learn. That's while I'm pushing to use what little money we have available to get creative and figure ways to weather the storm. Personally, I believe giving more of the pie to other city services and taking it away from libraries is a HUGE mistake. We need libraries more now than ever before. The difference this time around is computers and the Internet. Everything has become digitized and many are under the illusion that libraries are not as important as they used to be because people don't read books the way they used to. 

Remember, we've discussed this in past Friends meetings: how do we get people to use the library when they don't read books anymore? And we have succeeded by redefining libraries. The role of librarians has changed and people see libraries in a different light now. Circulations are up. Patron visits are up. I've read that recently the upsurge is in part due to the recession with folks doing job research at the library after losing their job, a safe zone for both the unemployed and homeless, an inexpensive entertainment place for parents strapped for cash to send their kids. This  is why we need libraries. We can NOT afford to be without them. Libraries will help us weather the storm. They give us the hope we all desperately need right now. We have to remember that and help educate others who don't understand this.

There are still a lot of people out there who have not been personally affected by this recession. They are nearly oblivious to what is going on around them. I know. I've got out of state family members and friends who live large like everything is status quo. Heck I know people right here in the Bay area who have not been impacted yet so they don't see it yet. We've got to get creative about this budget crisis and we've got to think and plan smart. It's easy to point fingers and cast (misplaced) blame when things don't go right. I know I've been guilty of that myself. So, what can we do to convince the mayor and city council that their budget strategy is flawed? We should be putting as much of what we've got into keeping our libraries strong and our city safe (police).

Librarians are highly intelligent people, so it is incumbent upon us to show others that we can do more with less. But we must needs have the proper, bare-bones basic tools to do the job. The city can and must learn to survive without many of the comforts we've come to be accustomed to. Libraries are not a luxury. They are a necessity that holds the framework of community and how to motivate citizens into making it a better place to live. We need libraries now more than ever before.

Benjamin Franklin realized this. That is why he started the first public library in this country. He had the forethought to realize that if we were to become a great nation, a populace with books and knowledge freely available to all its citizens was at the core of that great strength. Knowledge is power and we humans hold that knowledge in the written word. It is as simple as that. Look back at the past. Only clergy and the wealthy aristocracy could read and had books. Because of this, they had all the power over all the rest of humanity. Making books and knowledge available to everyone, teaching everyone how to read and write changed everything. If we don't hold on to that—and our libraries—we may well enter another dark age where the very wealthy are the only ones who can read and write and they will again have power over the rest of us.

My letter to Oprah

I am president of Friends of our local branch library (Elmhurst) in East Oakland, CA. I am at my wits end, Oprah, and desperately need your help.

Kids in East Oakland struggle every day to get a decent education. Our schools have no library. They must rely on the public library for research materials, a safe-haven, after-school place to study, Internet access, new books and a tireless, dedicated library staff to help them where teachers, parents and other peers in our community are often missing. These kids have to deal with high levels of street crime and violence, prostitution recruitment, drug dealing and using, gambling, vandalism, loitering, theft and gun violence. Now they are at further risk than ever before.

The City of Oakland, to balance the city budget, is slashing the library budget. Hours, staff & new collections will be reduced or eliminated making the library less accessible and more prone to vandalism. These kids cannot afford cross town bus fare to visit our downtown main branch. They must rely on our neighborhood branch. For 5 ½ years we have fought to get a public bathroom and drinking fountain installed. We finally got the money, got the project approved and now, with these budget cuts, are not even sure if we are going to have a library in two years.

As a lover of books and literature, Oprah, you know the value and importance of reading and a good education. I need your help to bring awareness to this City's leaders and citizens to remind them that our public libraries are the cornerstone of the community. Libraries don't just lend books, they provide much, much more. Librarians and staff are often the only adult guidance that these kids at risk have. Without a library and adequate access to it, they lose not only their access to books but much more. This is a complex situation not easily covered in these short forms. I cannot stress emphatically enough how vital it is to keep our little library intact. Can you help us please?

Charles A. Aiken, President
Friends of Elmhurst Library
Oakland, California