New measure extends the working hours of Oakland’s Public Libraries
on April 16, 2019
A man sat on a bench in the Oakland Main Library branch on a recent overcast Monday and asked for the time. It was 5:34 p.m.
“What time do they close?” he asked.
The branch used to close at 5:30 p.m on Mondays—but as of April 1, it closes at 8 p.m.
The man settled into the bench and said he might stick around longer.
For the first time in 15 years, Oakland Public Library staffers have extended their hours at all 18 branches across the city, due to new funding fromMeasure D, which was was passed last June by Alameda County residents. The measure authorized the city to charge an annual $75 tax on single family parcels for the next 20 years. The funds are funneled toward library services in Oakland. The measure passed with nearly 77 percent of votes, and it’s projected to generate nearly $10 million annually in funds.
Oakland residents had been asking for expanded hours for a long time, according to Matt Berson, the library system’s public information officer. “It’s something that we’ve heard over and over and over again,” he said.
The last time a library funding increase was passed in Oakland was in 2004, but the funding generated from that measure—Measure Q—was insufficient.
Extended library hours make it easier for people to check out books, but their value also lies in the additional resources libraries are now offering. Increasingly, people are relying on public libraries to take advantage of services they otherwise may not have access to, such as a reliable internet connection.
“There’s a segment of our population that has trouble accessing computers and the internet,” said Berson. “In all our locations, no matter where you are in the city, you can come in and use this.”
It’s a resource people across Oakland increasingly need access to, according to Kathryn Sternbenc, president of Friends of the Oakland Public Library. “As the city continues to be gentrified, there are more and more people who don’t have access to what people consider ‘basic,’” she said. “Veterans and people who were formerly incarcerated come in to reenter the community. So many things are online now: Section 8 applications, job applications—you need the library for access.”
The main branch also has a Teen Center on the second floor where teenagers can receive help with homework or simply hang out after school. It’s a large room with several desktop computers, rows of shelves lined with books, and handmade artwork displayed across the spacious room’s walls.
On a recent Monday afternoon, two teens were using the computers to play video games. They couldn’t play at home, they said, because they didn’t have the Adobe plug-in that the library computers have.
The number of students relying on city libraries for access to internet, programming, and resources may increase due to a proposed change in funding for libraries in the Oakland Unified School District. Measure G, a 2008 parcel tax, has long funded school libraries across the school district, but funding has been distributed according to each school’s need. If approved, the recent proposal would distribute Measure G funding equally: $20,000 per school.
At some schools, that won’t be enough to pay for a full-time librarian or other needed staffers, especially campuses that don’t have additional streams of funding, such as parent participation in Parent Teacher Association groups. Some libraries in low-funded schools even may be forced to close if Measure G funding is distributed equally, according to those who oppose the change in the funding structure.
Closures may lead more students to use the free resources available at public libraries, especially if they have an Oakland Promise Card. In a program being piloted at 21 schools in the district, students receive a school ID that has a city library card on the other side of their ID. The program allows them to access print and online materials, and exempts them from late fees. The program, according to their website, aims to “ensure that all Oakland students have access to free library materials.”
But it remains a pilot available only at some schools, and, even then, school staff are needed in order to keep the program running, and to bridge the gap with public libraries. “If you don’t have a school librarian who is organizing the library cards, the students won’t have a library card,” said Cristal Fiel, the librarian at Oakland’s Frick Impact Academy. “You still need a librarian in order to execute that.”
For now, staffers at the Oakland Public Library are working to get the word out about their recently expanded hours. “It’s really important for people to know libraries are here for the community,” said Berson.
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