Los Altos Informs
A study by the PrimeTime Project
Los Altos Community Foundation
Los Altos Informs takes its name from the vital role of our community library in every stage of our individual lives. It begins with story time for toddlers and study time for students, and it continues with college applications and career guidance for young adults. For mature adults, our library gives us tools for personal growth, along with practical information such as tax and business advice and tips for navigating government resources. Our library offers an encyclopedic array of some 200 electronic data bases to complement its programs and its books and e-books, CDs and DVDs, magazines and newspapers. Perhaps most importantly, at every age and stage, it transports us to other times and places for relaxation, entertainment, and inspiration. All this is available to us 64 hours a week, including dedicated librarians who help us find what we need, and a rich website available 24/7.
Many of us have taken pride in national recognition of our library, and we are pleased to be able to share this community asset without limit, with folks from our neighboring communities and beyond.
This year, however, our library decided to compensate for loss of significant state funding by charging an annual fee to anyone from outside our service area who wanted to use our library. This action raised questions in the community about who can make such decisions for us. Because we are part of a county library system, these decisions are made at the county level. Even though we might want to continue offering our library services to anyone who needed them, we couldn’t do so unless they paid the fee.
Questions were raised in the community as to whether Los Altos and Los Altos Hills could perhaps own and manage our library ourselves, in order to make independent decisions about how our library would function.
This question is not a simple one. On the one hand, we would be able to make our own decisions about allocation of resources and extending our services to surrounding communities. On the other hand, if we were not affiliated with the county, we would probably lose free access to its services, its 2.1 M materials, its 200 electronic databases, and some economies of scale.
Again on the one hand, our relationship with the library is subjective, having to do with the personal, the experiential, and even the emotional. On the other hand, there are practical considerations such as the extent of collections and services we really need, and the perceived value received for the cost of such services. Transition costs and space available to house a larger collection and additional workers also must be considered.
We at the LACF PrimeTime Project wanted to make a significant contribution to the discussion of this critical issue. We recognize the importance of all these factors, but the PrimeTime Project is committed to finding and sharing with you the factual aspects of an issue, to assist you in decision-making. So we decided to conduct the Los Altos Informs study, which will focus sharply on the operating costs of a community-owned and operated library vs. belonging to a county system.
The study will first estimate the operating expenditures paid by the Santa Clara County Library on behalf of the LA/LAH library. Then it will estimate what it would cost us to operate the Los Altos Library as a community library independent of the county, and compare this to selected other community-owned and operated libraries in California. Next, the study will discuss other potential cost categories and community values that should be considered. Finally, it will estimate what the community currently pays for our library services, as evidenced by our taxes, fees, fines, and contributions.
The study report is scheduled to be published on this website in March 2012.