no new library for sunnyvale

Last week was election day — and one of the things I was really hoping would pass, Measure B to support building a new library here in Sunnyvale, lost. Lost big, actually: we needed 2/3 and only mustered 59%. That’s a gigantic margin, and I think indicates broadbased opposition to the new building, or at least the $108M price tag.

I’m a bit discouraged by the vote — the library that we have in Sunnyvale is way too small for the population it serves, and is nearly 50 years old. It’s funny in that while I worked on the campaign and am also on the Library Board here, getting a new library doesn’t have a lot of effect on my own life. I tend to buy my books, I tend to access the Internet, well, everywhere. But I think it’s an important public good, so worth supporting.

Anyway, I think that I now believe that the combination of soaring construction costs, a general population who’s losing touch with libraries (and maybe books), and a fiscally conservative city government taken together mean that Sunnyvale may never get a new library. Branches maybe, a bookmobile maybe. But I think this may mark the last opportunity to get a real central library built.

On reflection, I’m not really sure whether I think that’s a bad thing. I know that my personal relationship with books is changing. I’m still reading a lot, of course, but I’m consuming a larger percentage of my content either on the Internet now or in video form. I’m starting to get annoyed that books are so heavy and take so much space in my house, not to mention that they’re a pain to move. I really, really want the eReader that’s coming from Amazon to be useful and have great content. I’ll switch in a flash.

I’m starting to think more about what needs it is that libraries satisfy, and whether we can reasonably expect a building 30 years from now to satisfy needs then. It feels to me like our pace of change is speeding up now, and I hesitate to predict what public spaces for collaboration and learning will look like even 10 years from now. (A visit to university classrooms today is incredibly provocative for me — they’re nothing like they were 15 years ago when I was there.)

So while I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the bond passed, I’m now thinking it might be a good challenge/opportunity to try to escape the constraints of big buildings for libraries. What’s next?

While I’ve got you here: Jim Griffith, Sunnyvale resident and a friend of mine, did an incredible amount to try to get this bond passed. Phone banked every night. Raised a ton of money. Got a campaign headquarters and dozens of endorsements. Put up lawn signs. Wrote op-ed pieces. Went to meeting after meeting after meeting. Jim’s work makes me hopeful that local government can work.

2 Replies to “no new library for sunnyvale”

  1. Libraries are not about books. Certainly that’s where you’ll find a lot of books but the real reason libraries exist is access. That is, it’s important in a democracy for everyone to have access to information that is not censored or “spun” to fit a political point of view. So, in a library, you’ll find librarians who are trained to find information that is exactly what a patron is looking for, no matter what the format or the request. There is no judgment, no bar to finding the information. Where else can anyone, no matter their age, point of view, dress, financial status, or education get the help of a person with a Masters Degree at no cost?Yes, I hope people will also go to the library for recreational reading or to meet friends or to learn new skills in classes. I just want us all to remember that there is no where else that can provide equal access and information for anyone and everyone.Stepping down from my soapbox, I am sad that the library bond failed but agree that it may be an opportunity to figure out how to provide a new kind of library for the people of Sunnyvale. You all in Silicon Valley like a challenge. I think this is a worthy one.

  2. Libraries are not about books. Certainly that’s where you’ll find a lot of books but the real reason libraries exist is access. That is, it’s important in a democracy for everyone to have access to information that is not censored or “spun” to fit a political point of view. So, in a library, you’ll find librarians who are trained to find information that is exactly what a patron is looking for, no matter what the format or the request. There is no judgment, no bar to finding the information. Where else can anyone, no matter their age, point of view, dress, financial status, or education get the help of a person with a Masters Degree at no cost?
    Yes, I hope people will also go to the library for recreational reading or to meet friends or to learn new skills in classes. I just want us all to remember that there is no where else that can provide equal access and information for anyone and everyone.
    Stepping down from my soapbox, I am sad that the library bond failed but agree that it may be an opportunity to figure out how to provide a new kind of library for the people of Sunnyvale. You all in Silicon Valley like a challenge. I think this is a worthy one.

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