Public Comment

Opposing Zoning Ordinance Changes Regarding Demolishing Libraries

By Peter Warfield
Tuesday May 25, 2010 - 03:05:00 PM

This is a letter Library Users Association sent to the Planning Commission expressing concern about the Berkeley Public Library's product and process for carrying out branch library renovations under Measure FF and the consequent concerns about granting the Library special exemptions from the customary scrutiny that its current and future building projects would undergo

Honorable Members: 

As supporters of good libraries and good library service, we respectfully oppose granting the above-referenced zoning changes as a kind of partial zoning blank check for current and as yet unspecified future “improvement projects,” as your public notice refers to them, by the Berkeley Public Library, and we ask you not to approve the amendments at your May 26, 2010 meeting or at any other meeting. 

Our primary reasons are twofold: 

1.There is at least serious question as to whether the Library is doing the right thing with its planned renovations, and instead degrading and dumbing down libraries through a book de-emphasis program that appears to be well along in the planning stages.Despite a small increase in floor space, Claremont Branch is to receive a 23% decrease in linear feet of shelving.West Branch is to receive 50% more floor space, but only a 3% increase in shelving.  


2.The Library has misrepresented its plans and misled the public with respect to the facts about its plans.As a consequence, the Library needs far greater scrutiny for its actions, rather than another opportunity to evade accountability. 


Some may argue that surely the Library has in the past fully reported, and would in future fully describe, its plans in public – but my personal experience at last week’s meeting of the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) says otherwise. 




The architect’s presentation on West Branch plans at the May 12, 2010 BOLT meeting showed a new building – and a small portion of one chart showed a 50% increase in floor space but only a 3% increase in linear feet of shelving for books and materials.These percentages, which represent a de-emphasis on books, were nowhere shown or mentioned in the agenda packet for the meeting, which included a memo to the Trustees from Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil, plus three attachments:a 4-22-10 Community Meeting announcement, meeting notes from the meeting, and eight pages of the architect’s “Design Schemes” and “Schematic Designs.”Neither the meeting announcement nor the notes, which included summaries what the architects said, made any mention of specific shelving statistics.(The notes said there were “7 non-library attendees, over ½ were first time attendees.”) 


In the meeting room was a glossy, color booklet apparently prepared by the library, titled “Shaping the Future of Your Neighborhood Library; the Berkeley Public Library Branch Libraries Facilities Master Plan” (SFYNL), which purported to present a “summary of the Facilities Master Plan and the promise it brings for our branch libraries.”Neither the planned demolition of the West branch nor the book de-emphasis were even hinted at in the Library’s booklet.Instead the booklet boasted that the branch “In May of 2003, was designated by the City Landmarks Commission as a ‘Structure of Merit.’”A second page says, “The recommended RENOVATIONS will add much-needed space.” (Emphasis added.) 




The May 12, 2010 BOLT meeting continued with a different architect’s presentation on Claremont Branch renovations.No statistics were presented about such basic aspects of the renovation as floor space increases/decreases, shelving, etc.Only after two members of the public complained about a floor space reduction for children, and book reductions generally, did the library director acknowledge that some details could be found in the agenda packet.A page on “Existing Vs. Proposed Conditions” revealed adult book shelving is to be cut by 27%, and overall shelving reducted 23%.The Library’s booklet, SFYNL, says nothing about Claremont’s shelving reductions – instead, it says, “The branch boasts a large collection....” and it promises “a more efficient interior layout.” 


We note that the library’s plan to cut 913 linear feet of shelving from Claremont’s current listed total of 4,027 was buried in a quarter-inch thick agenda packet, and is equal to eliminating more than 60 bookcases, each one three feet wide and five shelves high. 


The Berkeley Public Library Foundation’s full-size color fundraising brochure, copies of which were also on the table at the meeting, is also misleading.The title is, “Four Branches, One Goal; the Neighborhood Libraries Campaign.”It makes no mention of the planned book reductions at Claremont Branch and the book de-emphasis in West Branch, although it does reference “replacement of the current [West Branch] building with a brand new building.”For Claremont Branch, the brochure specifically praises written materials as follows:“Claremont’s collection – strong in travel, art, bestsellers, literary fiction, magazines, and newspapers – will be more accessible with the help of this [fund-raising] Campaign.”And on the opposite page, the brochure highlights in large type, “Last year, neighborhood library users checked out 875,000 items – books, DVDs, other media, and more.” (Emphasis in the original.)But nothing is said about Claremont’s many planned reductions in specific categories of shelving:42 linear feet cut from Children’s Books, and 30 feet cut from Children’s A/V; Teen Books + A/V are to be cut by 105 linear feet.Adult Books are to be cut by 607 linear feet (from 2264, a 27% reduction).Adult Magazines are to be cut by 80 feet, Adult A/V cut by 172 feet (of an existing 252 – a 68% reduction).Lighter reading gets increased shelf space:Children’s Magazines, and Teen Magazines are increasing by 12 and 36 linear feet, respectively.The only other increase in shelving is +75 feet for holds, up from zero – these are materials obtained from other branches or library systems when not available at the branch. 


The May 12, 2010 BOLT agenda packet included notes of a March 31, 2010 community meeting on Claremont Branch’s Design Development.The notes show “16 non-library audience members” attended.Of 15 comments, both that were related to shelving and books commented negatively on the book and shelving reductions.The two pages of notes do not say what, if anything, the public was shown or told about the reductions. 




While we have not yet reviewed renovation plans for the other two branches, we are very concerned that the product of at least these two library renovations appears to be a dumbing down of the service, while the Library’s practices both un-inform and mis-inform the public.We therefore ask you not to allow less accountability than is currently required.We urge rejection of the proposed zoning amendments to Title 23 of the Berkeley Municipal Code for “Development Flexibility for Existing Public Libraries.” 


Library Users Association thanks you for your efforts on this matter. 


Peter Warfield is Executive Director of the Library Users Association


Email:libraryusers2004 @