City Should Adjust Library Hours to Save Money, Audit Says

San Jose can cut the cost of extending library hours with a few simple adjustments to its staffing model, according to a new city audit.

Each of the 22 branches should look at peak use hours to determine their schedules, city auditor Sharon Erickson writes in her report up for review at this week’s City Council meeting. The city should also regionalize management to save time and resources.

Most people tend to use the library on Tuesdays and Saturdays, yet only the Evergreen branch offers regular service on those days using temporary funding. And not since 2010 has the city offered regular Sunday hours, even though that’s a historically busy day for library patronage. The least-busy times are Thursday and Friday mornings, but all branches stay open during those hours.

The audit was in motion before, but the final report comes after the council decided to place a library parcel tax renewal on the June ballot to keep branches open and staffed. The decade-long tax approved by voters in 2004 generated $8 million a year. But it’s set to expire next year. Voters will get to decide whether to extend the assessment, which pulls in a quarter of the city’s library budget.

When the economic downturn forced the city to slash services, libraries were among the hardest hit. Four newly constructed branches remained dark for years until the city came up with temporary funding to open them a few days a week. Collective library hours dipped from 931 to 814 a week.

Unsurprisingly, library usage plummeted. Four years ago, the city recorded 8.1 million visits and 15.4 million check-outs. In 2013, that dropped to 5.8 million visits and 10.7 million items borrowed.

Erickson also notes that the city could save time and money by going cash-free, like D.C. libraries, eliminating time spent on cash counts. And that reassigning some responsibilities and schedules could save $775,000 in annual staff resources.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for April 15, 2014:

  • The council will adjourn for a moment in memory of Steve French, a noted visual artist, scholar and venerable member of the local arts community who died Feb. 4.
  • Model ship enthusiasts are asking the city to allow them to fire open-air projectile at each other’s boat. Right now, city code prohibits anyone from firing BB guns, slingshots, rocks, crossbows, darts, pellets, bolts and arrows. But for the Western Warship Combat Club to play war by outfitting their 5- and 6-foot-long boats with low-velocity projectile launchers, they’d need the council to make an exception. The model boaters play with their ships on the Penitencia Creek ponds in north San Jose, according to an older memo submitted by Councilman Kansen Chu, who extolled the group’s “perfect” safety record. Not everyone’s OK with the plan, though. An email sent to San Jose Inside points out that the ponds contain public drinking water and that when these ships sink, they leech lead and battery acid. And apparently, according to neighbors, the club already shoots ball bearing projectile, some of which has dinged up car windows and hit a former member’s hand.
  • Opening of the patent and trademark office slated to move in to City Hall got pushed back to summer 2015. And the city will have to foot the $4.7 million bill for the move, basically eating up all revenue from the first five years of rent paid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. It bears repeating… Libraries are not a core service and San Jose’s libraries are a duplication of efforts that County libraries already provide. It’s nice to have when finances allow, but all I hear from the Mayor is how San Jose is poor and can’t afford adequate police and fire service.

    Regarding the Patent Office and more low income housing… Is anyone really surprised to learn that our elected leaders made another money losing deal? I’m not, and I’ll be shocked if they pass up an opportunity to build housing for people that need extraordinary police service while not fixing police staffing- with tax breaks to boot. The current Council majority is notorious for wasting money long-term (RDA and such) while pretending to be fiscally conservative in the news.

    • “Who is eligible to receive a free, full access Santa Clara County Library card?

      Cards are free to anyone who owns property or lives in the unincorporated area of Santa Clara County or in one of the following nine cities: Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill or Saratoga.”–who-is-eligible-to-receive-a-free-full-access-santa-clara-county-library-card

      City libraries are certainly not a “duplication” of county efforts. They’re also one of the most frequently used city services and should be considered a core service.

      • What Library are you talking about ? The 4-5 that i take my kids to, are used as daycare kids waiting to be picked up by parents . Very rarely do you actually see kids looking at or checking out books . its a place to kill time , most use smart phones or laptops to gather their info for school.
        Imagine that , another in a long list of missteps for this Mayor and Council . taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $5million dollars. This city has plenty of money , it just chooses to waste it on favors for Reed’s Developer buddies instead of TRUE core services , such as Public Safety.

  2. On this weeks “Rules and Open Government Committee” Agenda is a nice letter from the Santa Clara Valley Water District requesting Mayor Reed and Council proceed with a 20% reduction in water usage. One would think Housing projects of all kinds should cease until water supplies are secure.

    As to the libraries, I am not voting for the parcel extension. The libraries have not managed their finances to warrant a 25-year unfettered extension.I want well paid and benefited Police Officers and Firefighters.

    Regarding the “give-a-way” program for the Patent Office, word has it the City Clerk’s Office space has been sacraficed. It is rumored the FEDS like the window seating on the second floor of the Wing (currently the Clerk’s digs). This cost of moving employees around to suit the FEDs is unacceptable. The FEDs could have used “our” money to fund completion of the ground floor of the Wing. The Information Tecnology employees will have to relocated to the Tower. What an enormous waste of precious tax-payer monies!

    David S. Wall

  3. I would like to see audit of how many people really bother to go to a library. Seems to me most do reading / research on internet, amazon, schools, etc. I am tired or Chucks threats to cut police fire to close this buildings. Lets see the facts before a rush to judgement. Sorry but I have not seen a reason to go to a library in about 40 years.

      • Show me the facts! This is a place for schools /parents to drop off kids just to provide the same babysitting services. It is a baby service where sex offenders love to hang out and others view the same online because the council does not sensor computer access. SHAME ON YOU CITY COUNCIL AND CONSTANT. Anyone can view prone at any city computer.

        • SJPL’s usage is actually up over the last decade. It is a very heavily used city resource. These stats are a few years old, but here are some: More people visited the 20 San Jose branch libraries in one year than attended the home games of the SF Giants, the Oakland As, the Sharks, the Raiders, and the 49ers combined – 7.6 million visitors vs. 5.9 attendees.

          The annual circulation of the SJPL system is nearly 15 million items checked out or renewed. It’s one of the most heavily used libraries in the nation. In fact, in 2010, the San Jose Public Library had the 11th largest circulation of any public library system in the world.

          And circulation isn’t the only measure. People use the public computers, take classes, attend story times, and use the group study rooms. There are very few city services as important to San Jose as the library system.

          • I’m having trouble buying that 7.6 million visitors figure.
            With 20 branches that works out to 380,000 visitors/branch on average. These branches are open only 4 days/week so 1900 visitors per day? No way.
            Maybe the figure includes every time somebody “visits” the library’s website?
            Don’t get me wrong. I think our libraries ARE a core city service and we’ve spent a lot of money to build these architectural gems so we ought to figure out a way to keep them open.
            One way to cut costs would be to contract out their operation. Put it out to bid- no strings attached- no living wage provisions, no union contracts. Act as if the libraries were built for the peoples’ use rather than as just another expensive government worker entitlement program.

        • How would you know? By your own admission you haven’t seen a reason to go to a library in about 40 years. That is a very long time. There are a lot of people out there more creative than you who can figure out what to do with a building full of books. Why punish them because of your uninformed opinion? And the word is censor, not sensor. A book could tell you that too.

    • Agreed , lets see an actual audit . I am not against Public libraries. I just don’t believe that San Jose is in need of anymore libraries. they are not used like they used to be

  4. San Jose builds libraries, but has no money to operate them, so they remain shuttered; requires developers to build parks, but the city has no money to maintain them; built a south county police station, but no money to open it up. They just don’t get it, do they? Earth to Mayor and Council: don’t build anything you do not have the money in hand to operate and maintain before you break ground.

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