Collection Size Matters
Librarians Against Books

Suppose you wanted to fit your current collection of books into fewer bookcases. If you looked and saw there currently was little space above the tops of the books, would you even think of adding shelves? And getting new bookcases that were shorter? Of course not! Unless you are the Palo Alto Library management. And what if a group of concerned citizens discovered this physical impossibility in your plans and reported it to you? If you are the Library Director and the Library Advisory Commission (LAC), rather than address the substance of the problem at your meeting, you would be dismissive of those citizens, for much of the 14 minute discussion?

These citizens earned this enmity because they analyzed the Library's planning documents and found bad data, bad assumptions, bad calculations, false justifications and contradictory reasoning (details in the appendices of the full version of this document). Because many of these errors occurred before the arrival of the current Library Director Monique le Conge, this group met privately with her multiple times to explain what we found, but it appears that there will be no meaningful corrections.

My inference is that the Library management is intent on pursuing an agenda that subverts the clearly stated will of the voters and of City Council. In 2008, Palo Alto voters approved a $76M bond measure to replace and expand the Mitchell Park Library, to expand and renovate Main Library,... The legislative record behind that ballot measure included repeated, emphatic statements that Mitchell Park was to be an expansion of the overall system and was not to be a replacement or duplicate of Main, nor was Main to be downgraded. Yet downgrading Main is the current plan. For example, reducing the Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction from 133,000 volumes to 87,800 (34% decrease). The Library Director's current correction is to warehouse supposedly rarely used books in the basement and then count them as part of Main's collection. As a consequence, not only will people using Main have many fewer books readily available, but space at Mitchell Park, costing $800-1000/sqft, will be used for books that could and should have been at Main.

The underlying disagreement centers on how one determines what books deserve to be in the collection, because this determines the collection size that you need shelving for. Libraries are constantly removing lesser used books to make room for new books, either selling them for cents on the dollar or pulping them (recycling). Library management wants to double the circulation rate of the books in the collection, and claims that this will be achieved by various means to encourage Palo Altans to read more. For example, they plan for the circulation rate for Adult Fiction to increase to 25%, meaning that a book with be checked out an average of 25% of the time. Viewed one way, this is a measure of the popularity of the books in the collection, but it can also be viewed as a measure of unavailability: That 25% of the time you want an average book, it won't be there. For Adult Non-fiction, the planned increase is from 10% to 20%.

Our analysis is these increases will not be achieved, and that any increases will come largely from raising the threshold for what books are retained, which will be implemented implicitly by reducing the shelving capacity. This higher threshold will mean that fewer specialized books will be acquired, and those that are will tend to be disposed of earlier. A common claim has been that the bond measure construction will double the collection size for the whole system, but the planning documents show an increase in capacity of only 15%. The spreadsheets show an optional Phase 2 that incorrectly claims an additional 20% increase that is based on assumptions that are precluded by the plans for Phase 1 and the above physical impossibility.

The collection size at Main is the near-term issue, but this also applies to Mitchell Park. How does the Library management plan to reduce the collection size at Main? First, they want to widen the aisles—from 36″ to 42″—and lower bookcases—from 7′6″ to 7′ or less. They claim—based on dogma, not evidence—that Palo Altans find the current configuration overwhelming and massive (Presentation page 14). Second, they also want to increase the amount of open space at the expense of floor space for bookcases. In short, they are not only reducing the space for books, but using what remains less efficiently.

This goes directly against the survey of residents that was used to formulate the bond measures: Expanding the collections was a top priority and the public record show revision of the wording of the ballot measure to reflect this priority. The Library management portrays the libraries as primarily places for people to bring their computers to work on, for holdings meetings,... This seems to be simply the dogma or fad of their field, and is not based on any analysis that their planned increases in open space are needed or will be used.

The role of e-books in public libraries is complicated and evolving. The statements of Library management indicate that their plans are based on the assumption that electronic media will be a substantial portion of the Library collection in the very near term. The arguments I hear for these assumptions are aspirational, not analytical, and consequently I believe the plan should instead deal with how to accommodate those changes when they actually occur to avoid expensive retrofits should those optimistic assumption prove false.

Library management has used a variety of means to hide what they are planning and that those plans conflict with public policy. Previous management stonewalled requests for the planning documents for over 15 months (Presentation, page 30). And they encouraged false and misleading public statements by members of the City Council and Library Advisory Commission (Presentation, starting at page 19). I believe that Library management is hoping to delay public consideration of these problems until the projects are so far along that they can argue that it would be too expensive to go back and do what should have been done. This tactic has already worked: The previous Library Director got away with defying explicit instructions from City Council on the renovations of Downtown Library, reducing bookshelf capacity by roughly 20%.

Public pressure is now needed to get the plans back on track, both to provide the level of services that we thought we were paying for with the bond measure and to avoid it being wasted on the fads and vanity features that staff is pushing. If library management believes that the priorities in the bond measure need to be changed, they need to publicly make that argument and get approval. And they cannot dismissively respond to public questions with We're the experts. Realize that the architectural company that the City is using for the configuration of the interior of the libraries is the same one that caused a cost overrun on the Mitchell Park project because it substantially underspecified the amount of steel required in the construction.

Other members of this group of citizen are Jeff Levinsky, Enid Pearson, Elaine Meyer, and Betsy Allyn. The vast majority of the data collection and analysis was performed by Levinsky, and the original focus was on maintaining a comparable collection at Main Library. Author Moran lives outside Main's primary service area, but joined the group because he saw the problems at Main as problems for the whole system, and including the configuration of Mitchell Park Library.

Appendix - Details

The focus of the public debate on this issue should be on what Palo Alto residents want and need from their Library. However, since the Library management controls the implementation of those decisions, it is important to recognize and understand their decisions contrary to previous decisions of residents and the Council.


False justification for 42-inch aisles

The current aisles between bookcases are 36 inches, but the plans for Main (renovation) and Mitchell Park (new construction) call for these aisles to be widened to 42 inches. In our meetings with the Library Director and the architect for the projects, they have made a series of claims for why the aisles were required to be wider, none of which turned out to be true.

  1. The width is a guideline under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
    False. Jeff Levinsky checked with the U.S. Accessibility Board (, Accessibility Specialist Earlene R. Sesker.
  2. It is an upcoming ADA guideline.
    False. Ditto.
  3. It is not an ADA guideline, but recommended.
    False. Ditto.
  4. It was required by the City of Palo Alto Planning Department.
    False. Levinsky and Enid Pearson checked with Building Inspector Robert Dunbar, whom they cited as their source, and separately with Building Inspector George Hoyt (redundancy).
  5. It was Best Practices of library design.
  6. The additional width was needed so that if there was a wheelchair in the aisle other people could pass by.
    Not credible. I (Moran) asked how often this happened, and even when it did, what was the problem with that person simply looping down an adjoining aisle? I observed that since the aisles were only 18 feet long, this seemed to be a trivial imposition for what was likely a rare occurrence. The Library Director responded simply that she did not want this situation, refusing to consider the tradeoffs and cost-effectiveness.

We also checked with a local wheelchair user and ADA activist Joe Villareal and he told us that increasing the width to 42 inches did not improve access for wheelchair users in Supporting Documents.

Specious and contradictory rationales for 42-inch aisles, lower bookcases and fewer books on each shelf

Basic example: Library management claims that casual/leisurely browsing of the stacks is the most important way people select books, and consequently to encourage and facilitate this, the stacks need wider aisles, lower bookcases and display techniques that reduce the number of books on individual shelves to encourage and facilitate it. However, the resulting substantial decrease in books at a branch—because of the reduction of shelving capacity—is unimportant because most people use the electronic catalog and consequently it is unimportant where the book is physically located.

Visualization: The standard interior door in a house is 30-inches wide, and the exterior ones are 36-inches wide. Hallways in single-family residences tend to be 36-42 inches wide.

At the group's first meeting with the Library Director and the architect, the architect waxed rhapsodically about the importance of the experience of being in the stacks, such as the pleasure of being able to see large expanses of books that comes from having wider aisles that allow you to stand back. Her rationale focused on what I term the casual browser (alternatively leisurely), someone who goes to the library with the intent to get a book, but nothing specific in mind beyond the general category.

I (Moran) responded that my experience was that that type of browsing was increasing uncommon, that on my trips to the Library, I rarely saw people who appeared to be doing this, other than in DVDs and the New Books racks.

I was flabbergasted to have the Library Director and the architect dismiss my observations as unusual behavior. And I was dismayed to have the Library Director represent my comments to the Library Advisory Commission as they say that people don't browse, that nobody browses. (although she didn't identify me by name, I was the primary one in those meetings addressing this topic) at 11:08 in transcript of the 26 July 2012 meeting.

The meeting continued with the Library Director and the architect continuing to claim that wide aisles were needed for accessibility. Being an engineer, I (Moran) focused on exploring the tradeoffs involved. I pointed out that they seemed to be focused on the accessibility of individual books, and that there was a big difference between that and the accessibility of the collection of books: Books eliminated because their shelving was eliminated to make space for wider aisles were no longer accessible, either to those with special needs or to the general populace. Again, the Library Director and architect showed no indication of having considered this obvious tradeoff, or have considered alternatives, much less their cost-effectiveness.

A little later in the meeting, they flipped their position, now claiming that the reduced collection size at Main should not be a concern because people would be accessing it via the electronic catalog, and thus it didn't matter where the book was physically located.

When I first encounter such apparently conflicting explanations, my assumption that it is a consequence of going too far in trying to simplify the presentation, and not a problem in the underlying logic. In such cases, the conflicts disappear as the discussion progresses. This is not the case here. The Library management is focused on how they want to lay out the library, rather than thinking about how best to deliver the services that the community actually wants and needs. They simply bounce around among the conflicting rationales —arguing against something they had been arguing for only a few minutes earlier—as it suits their purposes in arguing for their desired layout.

The Increasing Role of Electronic Media

One very common argument for reducing the shelving capacity for books is that they are rapidly being replaced by e-books. However, when I push the advocates of this claim, I discover that by books they actually mean adult popular fiction, and when I try to point out that other categories have more complexities, too many of these advocates refuse to take this into consideration.

E-books currently account for about ***% of the **** collection and ****% of circulation. Even if there is explosive growth in the immediate future, for example, doubling each year, e-books will still be a tiny portion of the collection. And assumptions of sustained explosive growth are almost always wrong.

Planning Alternatives: The sensible planning approach to the uncertain of how big a role e-books will play and when would be to have a layout that would allow bookcases to be removed incrementally as they become unnecessary. It should be trivial to convert that space to more computer stations, work tables and reading chairs. Adding bookcases is much more expensive than removing them because they need structural bracing and they require special position of lighting. Is this correct? There is conflicting information on this, for example, the Shepherd email (pg 22) says the opposite. So why has the Library management rejected the sensible, conservative approach to uncertain developments? Do they see this as a way to lock in having a smaller collection of books?

Details of the uncertainties: Some of the impediments to e-books entering the library collection are:

  1. The publishers' business models. Currently only a small fraction of e-books are available to libraries because only a few publishers are willing to sell licenses. Anyone who portrays this as easy to resolve is oblivious to the battles over Digital Rights Management for more than a decade, and is likely unaware of the conflict 100 years ago between publishers of print books and libraries (a common starting point is First Sale Doctrine established 1908 US Supreme Court decision in Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Strauss because it established the underlying principle).
  2. Poor fit of the existing licensing models. Some of the publishers who license to libraries impose a maximum number of checkouts, after which the library has to purchase a new license. This is not unreasonable for popular fiction and other books that people tend to read in whole. However, there are categories of books that are used predominantly for reference. For example, I am reading a history book and want to check a citation, either for accuracy or additional information. Should such a check carry the same licensing fee as reading the whole book? Probably not, but how is the publisher to distinguish the two cases?
  3. e-books can be incomplete versions. For non-fiction e-books, I encounter statements that some content is not included, often photos, maps, illustrations, ... This could be because those components have separate licensing, or present difficulties in rendering, or ?
  4. Questionable usage claims. When talking to people about what they read in print and what electronically, I find a diversity that I don't encounter in public discussions. In my small sample, age and profession aren't much of a factor. And interestingly, many of my informants mentioned that for different tasks on the same book that they preferred using different formats (as do I).

Wrong Lessons from Bookstores

One of the fads being incorporated into the Library's plans is to emulate various aspects of bookstores. Unfortunately, they have failed to consider whether those aspects are relevant. For example, they want to feature various books by making them more visible. In a bookstore, what books are featured in this way? The more popular books—the bookstore wants to make it easy for people to find them quickly, and to get an additional sale from people who had heard enough of the book to be interested, but didn't have it on their list to buy that day.

Is this relevant to the Library? Hardly. During the period of such popularity for a book, it is typically handled exclusively through the Hold queue, which may have over a hundred requests pending and not clear out for over a year. By the time that book is available for enhanced display on the shelves, there is no long a justification for that enhanced display.

The Library management has not been able to provide evidence that such enhanced displays actually increase circulation. The purported examples they offer are all cases where such was part of a large package of changes, and other of those changes were more credible causes of the cited increases in circulation.

While there are demonstrations that enhanced displays will increase the checkout rate for a randomly chosen individual book, that is not evidence that it increases the checkout rate for the collection, because that selection might simply displace another book that that person would have read.

The basic question that Library management is unable to answer is With Palo Altans already very heavy readers, how is enhancing displays going to cause them to read more books? Recognize that they are projecting that this will double the number of books that we check out.

Main as the Research and Reference Library

Main is designed as Palo Alto's Research and Reference Library and that function carries a requirement to have a substantial collection physically present. A common task in doing research is bouncing between numerous books and other reference materials, checking citations for correctness and additional information, and pursuing various leads. Your ability to do such tasks is severely compromised when rather than walking tens of feet into the stacks, you now need to go to a different branch to get a book. Also, this creates pressure to cut-corners on research, and that is the opposite habit that we want our children to develop.

Balance between Open Space and Books

The Library management has argued that maintaining the current collection size at Main will mean reducing the portion of the library used for open space. These functions include: computer stations, work tables, reading chairs, ... Be aware that often when they refer to open space, they also mean wider aisles in the stacks and more space between the tops of the bookcases and the ceiling in order to give a more open feel to the library. What Library management isn't saying is:

Legislative History of the Bond Measure

The language of the bond measure begins with To provide additional space to expand library collections, because in finalizing the wording of the ballot measure (4 August 2008), City Council moved it from third position to first to reflect the priorities expressed by residents in a survey done for the City.
Ballot measure language and Impartial Analysis from the City Attorney: or Presentation to the Library Director (4 April 2012) pages 11-12.

In discussions, the Library management treats the bond measure as only calling for a system-wide increase in the collections, but the history is that it called for increases in individual collections. Examples:

Hiding Changes: Omissions and Commissions

Under the previous Library Director Ned Himmel, the City hid these changes from the public:

Bad Data

One of the most important things in planning improvements is to know what your current conditions are, otherwise you can waste a lot of money producing only a minor improvement, or sometimes even going backwards. But key aspects of the planning for the renovation of Main Library have been based on bad data. The below numbers can be found on pages 13-15 of 4 April presentation to the Library Director.

  1. The plan claims it will reduce shelves from being 100% full to 80-85% full (different versions of plan). Members of our group manually measured the current shelves and found them to be 83% full. The big question is how could any professional library not immediately spot a claim of 100% full as nonsense, either from walking into the stacks or knowing that at much more than 85% you start having problems reshelving books.
  2. The plan claims improvements to the stacks by reducing the number of shelves in the bookcases to 7 for Adult Fiction and 6 (max) for Adult Non-fiction, claiming that there are currently 7-8 shelves. A manual check revealed no bookcases with 8 shelves. The actual average for Adult Fiction is 7; Adult Non-fiction 6.2. One expects a library planner to have spotted these numbers as unusually high, because this is a routine configuration problem. Alternatively, Library management could have conducted a sanity check by briefly stepping into the stacks and counting a couple of examples.
  3. The count of linear feet of shelf space is 15% low, which translates into roughly 400 missing shelves (3 feet each), and or 60 bookcases (at 6.6 shelves each) or 5 aisles (6 bookcases per side).

Supporting documents


External documents

Letter to Library Director Monique le Conge

July 10, 2012

Dear Monique:

We'd like to thank you and Dawn for meeting with us in May and are very pleased about the change to have Main house 135,000 items. Here are some comments on various issues that arose at the meeting:

  1. Problems in Shelving Plans: Common library bookcases, including ones previously chosen by Group 4, cannot physically hold eight shelves of Adult Fiction, as Group 4 is specifying, with the books spine-out. We also found problems with Group 4's specifications calling for seven shelves high in Adult Non-Fiction. Details are attached.
  2. 36″ Aisles are Legal: Although we heard you say that aisles wider than 36″ between ranges are required, we've met with city building officials and consulted a federal ADA authority, who all assert that 36″ is legal. We refer you to building inspectors Robert Dunbar and George Hoyt of the City of Palo Alto Planning Department and Earlene R. Sesker, Accessibility Specialist at the U.S. Access Board ( Also, please see the attached letter from PAN member and wheelchair-user Joe Villareal about the waste created by aisles wider than 36″.
  3. Unsubstantiated Circulation Rate Increases: The numbers supplied by Group 4 for the Walnut Creek and Lafayette libraries actually suggest Main's AF + ANF circulation rates will not increase, so Group 4's reliance on these rates doubling remains unsupported by any evidence. Details are attached. As you know, our Downtown and College Terrace branches have also seen no rise in circulation rates after renovation.
  4. Higher Costs for Basement Storage: Placing books in Main's basement raises operating costs at a time when our libraries are short on funds. We recommend these costs be quantified so that alternatives can be properly weighed.
  5. Outstanding Questions: We have not yet received information from you concerning:
    1. Why most copies of many high-demand titles are assigned to Downtown.
    2. Which branch gets credit when an item assigned to one is borrowed at another.
  6. Capacity vs. Collection: Please clarify if the 135,000 target will be Main's actual collection size upon reopening and going forward, or simply its capacity. We seek assurance that Main collection will not be reduced following the remodel.

We would like to discuss the above with you at our meeting on Monday. We also look forward to seeing the revised plans and accompanying spreadsheet.

Thank you very much,

Betsy Allyn
Sheri Furman
Jeff Levinsky
Elaine Meyer
Doug Moran
Enid Pearson

Details for July 10, 2012 Letter

Problems in Shelving Plans: Adult Fiction

Typical 84″ library bookcases cannot physically hold 8 shelves of hardback fiction with their spines out. Here's why:

Hardback fiction books are typically 9.5″ tall. Shelves in Palo Alto and other library bookcases are 0.75″ thick, so one book and its shelf require 10.25″. Bookcases in Palo Alto and other libraries allow shelves only at 1″ vertical intervals. Hence, we assume that the fiction shelves would be spaced at least 11″ apart. But 8 shelves at 11″ each total 88″, exceeding the height of the 84″ bookcases Group 4 has specified.

Even 90″ bookcases don't work well because the base adds about 3.5″. For the new shelves at the Downtown Library, the second shelf's undersurface needs to be at 14.25″ from the ground for a 9.5″ book to fit onto the first shelf. Adding another 7 shelves at 11″ each comes to 91.25″. In other words, 8 such shelves cannot fit into a 90″ bookcase either.

One might omit the canopy and let books on the top shelf rise above 90″. However, that puts the top shelf at 81″ (6′ 9″), which is not accessible to shorter people.

While thinner shelves or different shelf spacing options may be available, these would likely increase the cost of the bookcases. Turning entire shelves spine-up is another possibility, but it hardly makes the collection more inviting.

We recommend you try actual shelf arrangements before plans are finalized. For this, you might use one of Main's existing 90″ bookcases, which allows you to simulate an 84″ bookcase as well. This experiment will make it easier to determine whether patrons and library staff can easily access the books in the various possible configurations. Note that 11″ vertical spacing leaves only ¾″ of space above each book, making it harder to retrieve books and the collection less inviting than at present.

Problems in Shelving Plans: Adult Non-Fiction Shelving

The Milpitas Library designed by Group 4 has difficulty housing 7 shelves of adult non-fiction in 90″ bookcases, so we're surprised at plans to put 7 shelves of ANF into even shorter (84″) bookcases at Main.

To clarify the difficulties, we ran experiments using 25,291 ANF books purchased over the last five years by Palo Alto. We chose this sample because the dimensions of these books were readily available online. While the sample covers only about half of the expected capacity for Main's ANF shelves and also represent titles from all Palo Alto adult collections instead of just Main, we believe it is quite representative. We sorted the books into call number order, split them between 1,806 shelves (the approximate number specified by Group 4), obtained the maximum book height for each shelf, and determined how many shelves would then fit into the bookcases.

Using standard 90″ bookcases, 6.5 shelves fit into each bookcase on average. This assumes that the tallest book on any shelf would have only ½″ of free space above it. We note that there are currently 6.2 shelves in the 90″ ANF bookcases at Main, suggesting staff have gotten reasonably close to the optimal configuration.

With 84″ bookcases, only 6.0 shelves fit on average. Intuitively this makes sense: with a bookcase that's 6″ shorter, you lose about one-half of a 12″ shelf.

Unfortunately, neither of these comes close to the average of 7 shelves that Group 4 proposes to house in 84″ bookcases for Main's ANF. It appears instead that using 90″ bookcases and planning for just 6.2 to 6.5 shelves is prudent.

Unsubstantiated Circulation Rate Increases

We appreciate receiving the additional information from Dawn regarding the circulation rates at the Walnut Creek and Lafayette libraries. Here are those details:

 OwnedOn ShelfPct on shelf
Sci fi/ss1870152281.39%
Total Adult Fiction136171073378.82%
Total Adult Nonfiction205251552975.66%
Walnut Creek
 OwnedOn ShelfPct on shelf
Sci fi/ss1722136579.27%
Total Adult Fiction156911214777.41%
Total Adult Nonfiction234861785976.04%

The information we received fails to note that the two Contra Costa libraries have far smaller adult fiction and non-fiction collections than Main. Here are the numbers:

 Palo Alto Main LibraryWalnut Creek LibraryLafayette Library
Total AF + ANF 89,907 39,117 34,142

This means that people visiting Main have more than twice as many adult fiction and non-fiction books to choose among, which of course is a valuable benefit. It means those books can represent a wider diversity of perspectives and approaches to a topic and thus provide more specialized and detailed treatment of topics.

To be fair, the three libraries serve somewhat different-sized populations who differ somewhat in their library usage. We can account for that by normalizing by annual circulation:

 Palo Alto Main LibraryWalnut Creek LibraryLafayette Library
2010-2011 Annual Circulation 545,722 509,271 452,768
Total AF + ANF normalized by
2010-2011 Annual Circulation
0.165 0.077 0.075

The above shows that even after normalizing by circulation, Main has more than twice as many adult fiction and non-fiction titles available. It is thus no surprise that for AF and ANF, the average volume at Main has approximately half the circulation rate of a volume at Walnut Creek and Lafayette. Rather, that's exactly what you would expect, based upon the vastly different sizes of those collections. There is hence no basis for claiming that Main's AF and ANF circulation rates are low and should correct themselves after building renovation.

Here's one way to think about it. Suppose the collection in say the Lafayette library doubled in size. Of course, circulation at the library might then rise somewhat but normalize that increase away. The average number of checkouts per volume in the library would invariably fall by half. It would match that at Main.

Another problem in relying on the Walnut Creek and Lafayette examples is the absence of any explanation of how the Main Library would come to have their circulation rates. That is, it's not enough to offer other libraries with different AF and ANF circulation rates as proof that Main will somehow switch to those rates. Instead, one must show that (a) there exist libraries comparable to Main that (b) once changed in the ways proposed for Main then (c) doubled their AF and ANF circulation rates. Since Walnut Creek and Lafayette currently have far smaller AF and ANF collections than Main, they aren't comparable libraries in the first place and thus aren't relevant.

As noted in our May meeting, the library could decide that if Group 4's projections of doubled circulation rates turn out to be wrong and the rates don't change, the extra books might simply be allowed to occupy the 15% of slack shelf space specified in the plans. Unfortunately, this will cause AF shelves to be 99% full and ANF shelves to be 96% full, creating enormous problems and frustrating both patrons and library staff.

We urge you to continue to use Main's current AF and ANF circulation rates for planning, given the lack of any evidence that a change will occur.

Accessible of aisle for wheelchair users: Letter from Joe Villareal

June 19, 2012

To Whom It May Concern,

I want to express complete support for NOT widening the aisles at the Main Library from 36″ to 42″, especially in the name of doing it for better wheelchair accessibility.

Speaking as a wheelchair user and having discussed it with several friends, also wheelchair users, I can categorically state that widening the aisles from 36″ to 42″ in no way helps us better navigate the aisles.

My apartment, which was build to ADA standards, has doorways that are 36″ wide. This provides ample passage for my motorized wheelchair. Extending the aisle to 42″ adds no value since 60″ are required for a turning radius.

Moreover, the consequential loss of approximately 342 sq. ft. is an unnecessary loss of floor space that could be better utilized for more shelving.

Valued at $810 per square foot, this loss of shelving space will cost Palo Alto $262,440, not an inconsequential amount of money.

Widening the aisles is unnecessary for wheelchair access and a costly waste of shelf space.


Joe A Villareal
360 Sheridan Ave #101
Palo Alto, CA 94306
p: 650.326.7519 | c: 650.248.4722

26 July 2012 Discussion by Library Advisory Commission and Library Director of the letter of 10 July 2012

This is an approximate transcript, with gaps, of this discussion from the online video recording of this meeting recorded and hosted by Midpeninsula Community Media Center. It is intended to provide the gist of the discussion, and to allow you to more easily locate those sections that may be of interest to you.

The discussion occurred under Agenda Item F: Other Reports/Comments and ... between minutes 0:00 and 15:30. For easier reference, timestamps have been included in the transcript thusly: mm:ss. Annotations and comments have been added thusly ThisIsAComment.

Commission Chair Theivanai Palaniappan 0:00: Let's move on to other reports. Is this where you recommend we read this note?

Library Director Monique le Conge 0:09: Yeah. I asked Noel Bakhtian, Commission member, had sent me some emails today with some questions and some, I did provide her with some answers. But I felt ... read that into the public record, if that is OK. ... We can attach it to the minutes from next or the correspondence from next ...

Commission Chair Theivanai Palaniappan: [more preliminaries]

Commission member Eileen Landauer 1:20: It is interesting that the request is always, umm, the the issue is reducing the amount of our collection and making sure we aren't losing any books and so keeping our aisle tight and keeping the stacks really high and what's very interesting, and I am just throwing this out because I have been doing this work and read this report and its is very counter to what most libraries are actually doing right now. Most libraries are actually getting a very open feel with lot of comfortable spaces to work on, to bring in your own computer, your own phone, or to allowing food, or to have meetings. Or, its very counter umm response to what most of these studies, so its not that we are going to do it but we can use all the various studies that are out there. In most of the studies, people want gathering spaces, they want robust libraries they want a lot of activities, they want a lot of [free surface?] but seldom do I... but never denser ... denser shelves. I'm almost wondering because they come back with this pretty regularly. And I had talked to ... Jeff and his group and wondering if ...

Library Director Monique le Conge 3:00: Dawn Merkes, the library architect from Group 4 and I met with them on three separate occasions ... we have listened to their questions and concerns and have answered ... it's a group of about 6 or 7 people ... we are double-checking the spreadsheets and the numbers

Commission Chair Theivanai Palaniappan 3:38: and I would add that the LAC ... times two and have all landed in the same place ... given this is your question to bring it up ... discussed it and discussed it ... There is no change at this point to provide a response to him and so we can move on unless anyone has further questions on that.

City Council member Greg Schmid (liaison to the Commission) 4:05: My understanding of that group is that their request is to maintain the number of volumes that were in the Main Library before it closes down and I guess it goes to the issue of the important of browsing, of having available on site ... of richer selections ... I know that at least one of the group says that Geez, as long as go to the online catalog and find things anywhere in the library it is just as good, but I think it is a debate about the physical presence as a key point of a ... virtual library ... people's selection process as they become more comfortable with the virtual parts of the library.

Commission Chair Theivanai Palaniappan 5:20: ... overall increase ... so some of that discussion has already been had ...

Library Director Monique le Conge overall increase, some of that discussion has already been had ... less frequently used items, stored in the basement, but having them accessible. Initially cautious, ... see inside ... if I can just request it I would be happy ...
6:00: ... tying all this to the bond and somehow we voted we would maintain the collections even if they were unused

Comment: FALSE. We have never said or advocated anything close to this. Unused is apparently her description of any less than the (high) circulation rate that she advocates for retaining a book.

rather than more ... so we stressed we are using best practices ... Dawn and I are professionals ... understand their point of view. We understand that this is a point of view in the community and that there are others who would rather have everything be completely virtual

Comment: Yet another serious misrepresentation of what we have said.

balance between those outcomes. To achieve the shelving requirements that they are proposing, we would need to remove seating and add shelves. I think that ... mathematically ... that goes counter to the information that you and I are reading

Commission member Eileen Landauer 7:15: ... what do community really want, when we spend lots of time and effort and money soliciting community input and the other ... If you look at statistics and best practices and really are looking at how many returns you have for each book ... ins and out ... have a very stale collection you can't be efficient because nobody wants it, it just sits there. It's like having bad inventory.

Comment: With the bond measure, the voters were promised a larger and significantly improved collection. That increase now appears to be a mere 15%, with increases at Mitchell Park being significantly offset by decreases at Main, College Terrace and Downtown. The Commissioner owes the public an explanation of why she apparently believes that a larger collection would be stale.

Commission member Mary Beth Train 7:55: If you have tall dense shelves and the books packed on the shelves, my understanding is that people kinda get overwhelmed and ... and those books circulate less, in other words, you are talking about turn. They don't turn fast. You'll get more books turning more often if there is more space. Think of a bookstore. A bookstore is a floor-to-ceiling packed, packed books like wallpaper. There are browsing tables and cap displays and so forth. And there is a reason for that.

Comment/Rhetorical Question: If the current bookcases in libraries are overwhelming and need to be totally eliminated, why do bookstores find it advantageous to have bookcases that are taller and more densely packed as part of their mix for selling books?

Commission member Leonardo Hochberg 8:50: In talking with some librarians in our libraries and some of the books they turn out on the shelves, they said that they just take a book off the shelf, they don't necessarily choose ... not librarians pick ... random ... gets checked out ...
9:25: One question... for the books going into the basement is there someway to leave a bookmark on the shelf ...

Library Director Monique le Conge 10:05: The way you would find the book now would be ... the catalog ... mostly duplicates ... and it would show Mitchell Park Basement She meant Main ... Occasionally there is a kid that comes in and there is an assignment due tomorrow so someone would run down and check it out for them ...

Commission member Leonardo Hochberg (continuing) 10:50: That seems to be their main concern—that if the book is not visible on the shelf then no one will use it. So you are saying ... essentially that we are get...

Library Director Monique le Conge 11:08: We have had conversations where they say that people don't browse, that nobody browses.

Comment: FALSE. This is the egregious misrepresentation of what I said that was detailed in False justification for 42-inch aisles (above).

I think, I think they want me to commit to a certain number and I said No, I'm not going to do that because for example we have, are using DVDs in a floating collection, so it doesn't live anywhere, it just lives on a shelf where it gets checked in until somebody checks it out again.

Comment: FALSE. She never said this, anything faintly resembling this, or even mentioning the issue of a floating collection.
In fact, it was us who raise the question about what could be termed a floating collection. For popular new releases, both books and DVDs, the Library buys a few copies for its permanent collection and rents many more to handle the rush. For example, the Library purchased 4 copies of the Steve Jobs biography and rented 36. Because the Hold Queue for such items persist for many months, sometimes over a year, these items float between the Hold shelves of the various branches during the period, and never wind up on the regular shelves. For administrative purposes, the Library's database records all these rental items as having a Location of Downtown Library. When we discovered this, we were concerned that the accounting for these high circulation items could distort the statistics for the circulation at the various branches. The Library Director didn't know how they were accounted for, and still hasn't gotten back to us (see 5. Outstanding Questions in our letter of 10 July 2012).
Since the floating collection of rental items is assigned to Downtown, I don't know what existing floating collection at Main that she is referring to.

So it belongs to the entire system. So if you look at the whole system, there gonna be more books, a lot more books. And we are talking about floating now maybe mysteries because it reduces the number of items in the delivery and it is available more quickly. Thinking about it living on the shelf somewhere may go by the wayside...

Comment: In our letter (next to last paragraph of Details), we expressed serious concerns that the highly speculative assumptions underlying the current plan could leave the shelves with inadequate slack space for the normal variations in circulation of a fixed collection. A floating collection would seem to require more slack space for its higher variability.

Commission member Bob Moss 12:12: I had disputes with Jeff Levinsky, lead author of the letter being discussed since we were both on the FoPAL Board FoPAL = Friends of the Palo Alto Library.
First of all, from my perspective, the library is a system, and if the book is in the system, it doesn't matter whether the book is Downtown, or Main, or Mitchell Park. If you walk into Mitchell Park and it is in Main, hey, I going to have it delivered here and pick it up at Mitchell Park. Big deal.

Comment: Actually, it is a big deal because delivery takes 1-10 days. Notice that Commission Moss is talking about people who are already physically present at a branch expecting an item to be there, and not users such as his wife (below) who use the online catalog from home to find the location of an item and request its transfer to their preferred branch.
Personal experience: I would estimate that over 90% of my requests transit in 1-3 days, but there are the occasional ones that get lost. The system does not notify library staff that there is a problem until an item has been In-Transit for 7 days, and there is no mechanism for the person requesting that item to start the process earlier (I've tried).

Second, the way my wife looks for books is to go online and she's not a teenager. So I think people are accustom to looking for where the books are online.
... Pass this out ... articles ... NY Public library has quadrupled its e-book budget since ... primary restraint is the publishers ... different publishers do things different ways. ... The future, especially for fiction, is going to be e-books ... increasing significantly ... Doesn't mean that paperback books are going to go away. ... large number of circulation items are not going to be physical, they going to be ??? The final things is, as you pointed out Mary Beth, their bookcases are going to be jammed and it actually discourages people.

Comment: FALSE. Our analysis is based on having the same amount of slack space on the shelves that the Library management uses in their plans—15%—and that is best practices.
Question: Earlier he seemed to assert that users select and find books primarily through the online catalog, so why is it important how books are displayed in the stacks? And when users request items from other branch, those items are in designated bookcases, so those users don't even go into the stacks—for them, the displays are simply wasted space.

In the other libraries, Mountain View and Santa Clara, I have been in, the bookcases are not full, they tend to try to space the books out; they have empty shelves, they don't try to cram everything on the shelves in the facility. It seems to work. So Jim meant Jeff (Levinsky) has complaints about this and I'm sure he will continue complaining and if you put all the books on the shelves, he would complain more. Don't sweat it.

??? 15:20: ????

END 15:29