Public Comment

Will Library’s Bamboozle Undermine the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act?

By Gene Bernardi
Tuesday January 25, 2011 - 12:35:00 PM

An overwhelming majority of Berkeley citizens in a 1986 election approved the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act (NFBA). The Peace and Justice (P&J) Commission was established at that time to monitor the enforcement of the Act. The law states the City “shall grant no contract to any person or business which knowingly engages in work for Nuclear Weapons, unless the city council makes a specific determination that no reasonable alternative exists…”. Most of the proposed contracts that have come before the P&J Commission are with the University of California (UC) which manages the Nuclear Weapons labs. In the case of UC there is almost always, if not always, a finding of “no reasonable alternative.” 

The question now is: Will the Berkeley Public Library (BPL) and the City Manager abide by the City Council’s decision to waive the NFBA for just two years, rather than the three years requested by the Library? 


On January 27, 2009, the Berkeley City Council was under pressure from a huge crowd of anti-nuclear public commenters demanding the Council honor the Nuclear Free Berkeley (NFBA) by denying a waiver of the Act requested by the Berkeley Public Library (BPL). 

The Peace and Justice (P&J) Commission had shortly before held a hearing on the Library’s waiver request and voted 7-2 to recommend denial by the City Council. 

The Library Director justified the NFBA waiver request, stating that the Checkpoint check-out Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system (installation of which was completed just a few years previous) was deteriorating and that, because it is a proprietary system, it could only be maintained by 3M, a company designated by Checkpoint. 

The problem: 3M declined to sign the statement required of all City contractors that states the company is not, and does not intend to be, involved in Nuclear Weapons work or the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. 


At the suggestion of a recently retired Library Trustee, the Council waived the NFBA for two years, rather than allowing the three year contract requested by the BPL. The two years is either up on January 27, 2011 or March 14, 2011, March 15, 2009 being the date the contract was signed with 3M. 

What’s the bamboozle? The bamboozle is that, although the contract states that it will end on March 14, 2011, there is an added phrase: “The City Manager of the City may extend the term of this contract by giving written notice”. Furthermore, the contract indicates that the annual amount for maintenance is $56,305, yet the total amount of the contract is exactly three times that amount, $168,915. Why did they include enough for three years of maintenance, when the City Council approved a waiver of the NFBA for just two years, not three? 

More History 

In the Fall of 2010, BPL signed a contract with Bibliotheca, a non-nuclear company, for a new RFID checkout system. On November 8, 2010, the P&J Commission wrote to Library Director Donna Corbeil requesting that it be informed of the “schedule for installation of the new RFID system, and final and complete termination of the 3M contract, such that the Library will be in compliance with the NFBA waiver deadline of two years”. 

Library Director Corbeil’s November 23, 2010 response letter to P&J does not provide any RFID installation schedule. It does state that “on November 18, 2010, 3M representatives were notified … that the Library has elected to allow contract # 7890 with 3M to terminate on the agreed date of Monday, March 14, 2011. Consequently, the Library will not be exercising its contractual option to extend service”. 

Current Upshot 

What’s the concern, then? The concern is that the Library has provided no information to the P&J Commission, and has not made information public, as to whether the installation of the new RFID tags in the Library’s thousands of books and other media has even begun. But, even if it has, how can it be completed by March 14, 2011? The Checkpoint RFID system took about one year to install and involved using librarians, aides, and temporary employees, the latter at a cost of over $65,000. 

What is the Library going to do if the new RFID system is not fully installed in the South and West branches -- those scheduled for demolition -- and in the Central Library, by March 14, 2011? (Claremont and North are due to be closed for renovation in March, 2011.) 

It appears BPL has three ways to go. We suggest the third. 

1. Continue the old deteriorating dysfunctional Checkpoint RFID system without a maintenance contract while waiting for the new RFID system to be fully installed. This would undoubtedly result in a security gap for Library materials. 

2. Mock the City Council’s action, and mock the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act representing the community’s wishes, by exercising the option to extend the 3M contract (an option that should never have been included). 

3. Cancel the contract with Bibliotheca -- it has an escape clause -- and install a bar code checkout system which would merely require placing metal strips in those books which do not already have them, instead of having to replace RFID tags in each and every book and all other Library materials. 

A bar code checkout system would be the honorable and most cost-effective way to go. Shouldn’t we be concerned about cost in the current economy, especially in the face of cuts which must be made because of the reduction of State funds to local agencies? 

Gene Bernardi is a member of the steering committee of SuperBOLD, Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense.