In an age where “information is power,” 21st-century public libraries can provide arsenals of invaluable resources for personal and community discovery. For everyone from toddlers to teens and resourceful entrepreneurs to retirees—the Menlo Park Library has been a place to listen, learn, collaborate, study, and create for 61 years. During those decades, Silicon Valley and Menlo Park have changed the world and grown exponentially in the process. And while the number of people using the library has increased along with our population, the library's facilities haven't.
Where Do You Put 18,500 Pre-Schoolers at Story Time?
In the basement. Last year 18,500+ preschoolers came to listen at story time, starting down the path to becoming readers. With 40 to 45 children at each story time, the main library‘s only meeting room, which is in the basement, is full.
How Do You Power Up Information Without Enough Outlets?
In the heart of Silicon Valley, it's hard to imagine school-aged kids trying to learn coding and animation when there aren't enough power outlets for computer workstations. It's uncomfortable for computer users to have other patrons waiting in line to use their electrical outlet. And it's inconvenient for adult library patrons who come to browse the Internet, conduct research, and use library computers to learn.
We Need Room to Dance
Last year, almost 6,800 primary and middle-schoolers attended one of 114 programs designed for them, including dance performances, science nights, concerts, computer classes, and other activities. More than 2,300 teens and adults actively participate in 118 lifelong learning programs. Community groups who need places to meet have few choices—there are no rooms available for meetings, quiet study, conference calls, or webinars. Last year, the library hosted a lecture on the solar eclipse. Unfortunately, we had to close the lecture to waiting attendees when the building reached capacity.
The Branch Library
The Menlo Park branch library is currently housed in the Belle Haven Elementary School. It received a minor remodel in 2017, but not only does it suffer from the same space limitations, it's not available to the public during school hours.
We're Pretty Popular
Last year more than 340,000 people visited our libraries. They borrowed more than 560,000 books, magazines and DVDs. We're so glad they visited, and equally glad they took materials home to enjoy! Where would we put thousands of patrons?
It Doesn't Have to Stay this Way
The Main Library and Branch Library simply can no longer support the community's needs. After an extensive space needs analysis, it was clear that remodeling the existing spaces (designed before digital life) would cost as much as new structures.
Please support development of a 21st-century Menlo Park library system. As a community committed to lifelong learning, in the heart of world-leading innovation and brilliant minds, we need to ensure that we can build on the legacy of the existing library for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren.
This opinion piece originally appeared in The Almanac News on June 12, 2018