Los Altos council offers interim solution for Friends of Library

Last week’s Los Altos City Council action offered temporary relief for the space needs of Friends of the Los Altos Library.

Council members July 9 approved a spot adjacent to the main library parking lot to replace the sorting room volunteers have been using for years at Hillview Community Center for book storage and sorting. The city also found space next to the police station, where the group can use two sheds for storage.

Acting on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee formed last month to address the issue, the council will allow Friends members to place a trailer or other portable building and authorized City Manager Chris Jordan to negotiate and sign a lease for the land at no cost to the group.

Courtesy of Catharine Kristian
Volunteers with Friends of the Los Altos Library sort thousands of books weekly in preparation for their regularly scheduled book sales. The next sale is scheduled Aug. 23-25 at the Los Altos Youth Center.

The new sorting space measures 15-feet-by-40 feet. The Friends group had been using a 25-foot-by-40-foot space at Hillview. Friends supporters suggested a portable structure for sorting space between the police station and the Los Altos History Museum, but museum and orchard supporters opposed the idea because it required removing two apricot trees.

Space constraints

The space challenge stems from impending construction of a new 24,500-square-foot community center that’s due to begin after Aug. 1. Friends volunteers said their strong preference was continuing their work near the library rather than a location off-site. But anxiety rose as option after option proved unworkable.

The Friends’ dilemma underscores a lack of available space at Hillview – both now and when the smaller-sized community center is constructed. Last week’s council action is meant to be a temporary solution effective through Dec. 31, 2020, the scheduled completion date for the new center.

Groups that have used Hillview, including residents taking adult education classes and parents with children at Children’s Corner preschool, wonder about indoor space alternatives in a new center that will be more than 5,000-square-feet smaller than its predecessor.

Friends of the Los Altos Library, which started in 1957, has been a particularly productive nonprofit group, with hundreds of volunteers selling books and raising millions of dollars for local library programs. Friends raised more than $200,000 in 2018 alone.

Community librarian Marlene Iwamoto offered an additional 250 square feet at the already crowded main library for Friends’ use.

The imminent changes prompted mixed reactions from Friends members.

“The Friends are extremely pleased that the council approved our presence on campus through 2020,” said Margaret Brooks, Friends president, in a statement. “It ensures that we will have a place to move to in August, and the breathing room we need to work on a long-term solution that is mutually agreeable to all stakeholders. We will make the necessary adjustments and will continue to support the Los Altos libraries and the community.”

“This sad solution is a classic ‘designed by a committee’ solution to a serious problem,” said Friends member Bob Simon. “I worry about safety, for example, as books are moved from sorting to storage behind parked cars, I would suppose, along a route that will be a busy road.”

Some members are concerned about the lack of long-term sorting space at Hillview. Beyond the 18-month temporary solution lies uncertainty. Friends’ supporters have envisioned space in an expanded main library, but plans – which have included enlarging the facility from its current 28,000 square feet to 40,000 – remain in the discussion stages.

The ad hoc committee, comprising city officials and Friends members, plans to discuss long-term solutions, including sites away from Hillview such as Rosita Park and the Woodland Branch Library.

“(Friends) is thankful the council provided an on-campus location since on-campus solutions are operationally the most beneficial and will make it work,” said Friends member Allan Epstein, who serves on the ad hoc committee. “(Friends) is hopeful a long-term on-campus solution can be found, but current indications suggest this is unlikely.”

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