Volunteers Can Help Save Libraries

Due to flat tax revenues and escalating pension costs, the city of San Jose has been forced to cut library hours year after year as well as make million dollar sacrifices in all other city departments. Even with all of the eliminations, San Jose continues to have a budget deficit. The current direction for the Library Department for fiscal year 2012-2013 is to cut an additional $2 million, which ultimately equates to library staff layoffs and less hours of operation.

It is unlikely that the four libraries currently closed in four different council districts will open in the coming years with the existing library delivery model. Instead, there is a high probability that library hours across the city will be reduced again to balance the budget. At a time when we need to preserve our police staffing, it is unlikely our libraries will receive any windfall of tax revenue.

San Jose is gifted with beautiful libraries funded by voter passed bonds. Our goal should be to open our libraries for as many hours a week as possible. Certainly, the most important concern is to have the library doors open.

We need to re-examine the current delivery model for San Jose libraries and seriously consider how we can incorporate volunteers to fully maximize the hours of operation at all of our libraries. Any change from the current delivery model requires approval from the union.

Volunteers could add value. For example, they could augment current library staff to extend the number of hours a specific library is open. This does not mean laying off current staff, but rather simply augmenting staff with volunteers to gain an extra open day a week. Or, in a worse case scenario, retaining the current hours in the face of budget cuts. In relation to volunteering for civic purposes, 71 percent of fire fighters in this country are volunteer.

I hope that the mandatory meeting process, which is known as “meet and confer” (not open to the public or even elected officials, unfortunately), between the unions and the city might result in some movement to incorporate volunteers. My fear is that if we don’t make some changes now, then the council may have to consider another cost saving alternative like outsourcing the libraries to a third party, as is being done in other cities. Although outsourcing would extend the hours and days of operation, it would also most likely bring layoffs. As a result, I would like to see volunteers utilized.

As I mentioned above, the vast majority of fire fighters in the USA are volunteer, therefore, I believe mustering volunteers for a library would be less difficult in comparison. One reason for less difficulty is because 95 percent of San Jose library patrons today already use self-checkout machines for their library materials. Maximizing volunteer opportunities would open the door for both residents to utilize the library and for resident volunteers to come forward and be part of the solution. 

More than 3,000 volunteers near and far have come out to support the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, and I believe people would do the same for libraries given the opportunity. Allowing volunteers to augment city staff would avoid layoffs and stretch our library department funding further to benefit our customer: San Jose residents. 

Please help keep the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden the number one rose garden in the USA by volunteering for Winter pruning this Saturday at 9am. Special recognition will be given to two of the many volunteers, Myles Tobin and Harry Garcia, who have volunteered more than 2,000 unpaid hours each. If you can’t make it, this event volunteer opportunity exists year-round at the park—except when it rains.


  1. 2012, same old PO blaming pensions for all the cities problems.  Go back to solving homicides will you and try to get the last drop of blood out of public safety.  I would love to see how many people even go to a library anymore when you can find just about anything online.  How about we consolidate the libraries?

    And stop paying a librarian over 250K to do what?  Post her retirement pension will you?

    • Plenty of people in San Jose use libraries in part because they cannot afford a computer to go online.  Many are disadvantaged youth, the primary constituency of our neighborhood libraries.  They would find it far more difficult to access libraries if they were all consolidated in a single place clear across town. They would also be more likely candidates for perpetrating criminality if idled by shuttered local libraries. 

      Further, the expansion of San Jose’s branch library system over the past decade-plus was specifically endorsed and funded by the San Jose electorate.

      We have made a sound investment in our neighborhood libraries.  We need to protect that investment by keeping our branch libraries open and operating on a daily basis.

      • many are disadvantaged, cannot afford a computer, show me numbers then I will back up your reasoning.  I don’t think to many gang members are doing research.

      • “…Further, the expansion of San Jose’s branch library system over the past decade-plus was specifically endorsed and funded by the San Jose electorate…”

        Lets not forget that the very same electorate endorsed and funded the new construction of several fire stations and renovation of several others which sit vacant or closed on a rotational basis due to lack of staffing and the willful disregard for the industry standard for staffing of fire apparatus (championed by none other than everyones favorite campaign sign stealing “volunteer” Pierluigi Oliverio!)

        That same electorate endorsed and funded the construction of the Police Substation in South San Jose! 

        This is the same electorate that elected Mayor Reed and his band of marauders (which includes PLO) when they said they were pro-public safety (police and fire) then drank the “Reed Kool-aid” and agreed that public safety had more to do with staffing the Mayor’s Gang Task Force and opening public pools in the summer. The stats arent in yet on whether or not opening the libraries for 4 hours vs shutting some down reduced crime in SJ.

        In any case this is the same electorate is upset with police officers and fire fighters because tax dollars went for pay and pensions when they should hold the MAYOR AND COUNCIL and CITY MANAGER accountable for increasing pay and benefits rather than HIRE more police and fire fighters with the exisitng pay/benefit package.

        This is also the same electorate that is outraged that Fire response times have increased and the police are unable to respond to certain calls for service because staffing has dropped from 1400 to about 1000 DURING MAYOR REED’s TENURE???

        What a strange City we live in!

  2. Pierluigi,

    I’ll make you a deal.  About six months ago, I proposed that you look into using capital budget funds for renovation of our Beirut-like streets.  Given the longevity provided when renewing the road surface, that cost should indeed be charged to the capital budget, not the general fund.

    If you make a legitimate attempt to push forward on this issue, I’ll make a significant investment of my time in volunteering at our City libraries.


    • “Libraries are obsolete”

      How obsolete? Any one of the e-Readers can be loaded FOR FREE with FREE Classical or Modern content that should give any STARVED FOR KNOWLEDGE UNDERPRIVILEDGED YOUTH enough material to keep them out of jail for ever!

      PLO here is an IDEA fo you: GO to the D6 chain supermarket at Hamilton/Meridian with your CLub Card!  Near teh Customer Service desk you will find a display that has some Kindle knockoff retailing for $199.99.  With your Club Card you can no limit purchase the thing for a whopping $0.99!!!! (ninty-nine cents!!!) The dang thing will even read the content to the user!

      “…and sell the rest…”

      As everyone’s favorite comedian and “Real Estate Candy Man” Chuck Reed is fond of saying:

      “I’d love to sell a library or two! I just don’t know of anyone interested in buying a used library! (ba-dum-bum!!!) If you know of anyone please send them my way!”

  3. how about we have volunteer city council members not drawing 95k from the city general fund and having a second job as a mountain view computer consultant making 150k…..pier look at yourself before making such suggestions….this is the same old rhetoric from 2011 can we get some new ideas that might work, obviously after 10 years of budget deficits and layoffs this mentality is not working bring some new ideas…maybe in 2013 when we might get some new faces on the san jose city council we might get better ideas to solve the budget problem… WAITING FOR A BETTER CITY COUNCIL !!!!!!!!

    • I don’t think a volunteer council person would be elgible for a 2%/year CalPers Pension with vesting rights after five years (one four year term plus one year of a second term – fully portable to higher government office or employment!) and ODDLY NOT affected by the PENSION REFORM Ballot measure approved by the currrent recipients of said pension!

  4. So, you passed bonds to build buildings, but now admit that you don’t have the tax revenues to put the actual employees into the buildings. (Kinda like when you built City Hall, but forgot to budget for the furniture!) Oops. Gotta blame something. Hmmm… I know… evil pensions.

    Too bad pension costs are coming *down* and are now predicted by your independent professionals to be a fraction of a fraction of your made-up forecasts.

    Maybe building new libraries and fire stations and a police substation and a City Hall in the face of a major recession and decline in tax revenues wasn’t such a smart idea? But no, lets blame the employees because the City’s DECLINING tax base can’t support GROWING the staff to fill these facilities?

    If you want volunteer libraries, or a volunteer fire department, or a volunteer police department, or volunteer animal control, then make a proposal, get City Council support, put it to a vote of the people, and get it done. Oh that’s right, you don’t get things through City Council, you are the dissenting vote, the brave individualist who votes 1 to 10 against the majority, achieving nothing and changing nothing and improving nothing.

    Just for the fire department alone, be sure to work through the logistics – as you very well know, the largest volunteer fire department in the county responds to 2,040 calls per year. (In case you aren’t aware, this City’s Fire Department responds to 60,000 calls per year, with many individual engines responding far more than 3,000 calls per year alone.)

    Why don’t you BUILD this community by getting the economy working, investing in developing business and industry, attracting genuine investment (not RDA cash giveaways), creating a welcoming community and business environment, tearing down obstacles to jobs, making interaction with the City fast & efficient? No, its easier to tear things down, rather than come up with solutions to really build this City like your predecessors did. Somehow, *somehow*, they managed to LEAD this City through WWI, WWII, the Vietnam war, a global depression, the oil crisis, hyper inflation, a horrific earthquake, the list goes on.

    We need to make this a strong, better City. We need new leadership because your solutions are tired, old, and ineffective. We have leaders ready and willing to replace your incompetence. I’m voting for real leadership. I’m voting for change.

    D6 Voting Resident & Homeowner

    • This could be one of the angriest union rants on this site yet.  The prior generations you point out had less and did more. This country would not be what it is today without the efforts of volunteers.

      • you are absolutely right , But dont deny this country was also built by union labor. There definetly needs to be change , it just doesnt have to be done by killing the unions. This dishonorable Mayor , who preached sunshine reform refuses to negotiate with the unions , who have offered to negotiate in a public forum. The unions have what they have Because of Mr. Burns voting record. they didnt steal or trick anybody. benefits were given /approved in lieu of raises. the unions are still actively trying to negotiate.it is the Mayor who is pushing this Illegal Ballot measure , that will surely be tied up for years in court and cost the residents of San Jose Millions of Dollars……..only to lose. Cant we all just get along

      • This could be one of the angriest union rants on this site yet.

        I don’t think it’s anyone associated with unions.  I think I actually know who this poster is. Someone who may not be a 1%, but definitely has pull with the 99%.

        A very good, honest, hardworking person with a reasonable amount of sanity.  I’d be hard press to say I know a lot of people with the same, high standard, moral compass as “Wrong Facts”

        This person is associated with Churches (but not in an extremist way)  That’s about the most I’ll say about my guess as to who they are…

  5. I love books and find it sad that the libraries are being closed. But time marches on and the irresponsible behavior of bond-happy voters and reckless city leadership over the last 20 years has led to this. Paying the same taxes for fewer services does not make me want to rush out to volunteer. The city needs a reset all around. A great start would be stopping our foolish dreams of pro soccer, baseball, or -insert favorite corporate/union largess here-.

  6. D6 Voting Resident …..

    You have it right – past and current Council’s have failed residents for over 12 years by not addressing the city’s declining city revenues

    San Jose is the most expensive, time consuming and difficult city to do business while giving away millions taxes to Council’s and City Manager’s political cronies rather than lower taxes, simple city application process and better resident services

    No wonder other cities provide better services, infrastructure improvements, less crime rates and no layoffs – they have adequate tax revenues at competitive tax rates not like San Jose’s very high tax rates, low tax revenues, lower services and increasing crime rates and slow to no service responses

    Businesses start up or move to cities with reasonable taxes where they are welcomed and respected,  unlike San Jose where they have high taxes and have very difficult business unfriendly Council and city government

  7. Yo, D6 Voting Res and Homeowner – You should switch to decaff! 

    Let’s keep the libraries open!  Instead of complaining get off the sidewalk and help!  Offer to volunteer at your local library, or give a donation to the Friends of the Library. 

    Closed libraries help no one.  Why don’t you want to keep them open longer, and more days?  I miss being able to go to the library.  I’ve got there and it was closed because i forgot what days they were open.  Support the kids, support the library!

  8. Overall, as City revenues have shrunk, so have responsibilities.  Within the last year, the Mayor and City Council no longer have to act as the RDA Board.  So have they and their administrative staff had their pay cut accordingly?  How about offering up the City Attorney’s office work to open-bid just was done to the Anti-Graffiti Program?  And just how many City Managers do we actually need?  (Mathematically, one City Manager’s pay is worth that of at least 4-5 librarians, if not more.)

    Let’s face it, we citizens have done more with less – including taking care of our own street trees and sidewalks, paying higher fees for less service.  Many of us also volunteer at local community centers, churches, food banks, and yes, I have volunteered at the library now for over 13 years. 

    Santa Clara’s City Mayor and Council are all part-time positions.  Imagine if San Jose’s leadership positions were all made part-time – it would not only save us tons of money, but would allow so many qualified professionals the time to volunteer right alongside the rest of us!

    • I think the council’s office should be part time and their staff should be volunteers. For what they have to do, students can do the work. Maybe Political Science Students. It would be a great avenue for internship.

  9. Since most San Jose libraries are right next door to fire stations and since most firefighters are idle for much of their shifts how about if we volunteer the firefighters to help run the libraries during some of their spare time? They’d still be handy to the fire engines in case of an emergency. And it would keep their minds sharp.

  10. As the daughter of a former librarian and a former teacher, I will gladly volunteer at the local Willow Glen Library.  The point is, to keep the library OPEN and to allow people to borrow books! I may not have my Masters degree in Library Science, however I can gladly put books on shelves or read stories to children.  Please let me know what day/time and I will be there.

  11. Here is an idea.  Take most of the books and store them offsite (or give them away to some sort of museum).  Provide electronic books in their place.  This is Silicon Valley, we should be ahead of the curve on this one.  To afford and provide subsidized rates and subscriptions for those who qualify, lease out some of the space to a local coffee and sandwich shop.  Create a nice public space that people wouldn’t mind visiting.  If you find issues with local homeless, address that as a separate issue.  Build a safe shelter or transitional home for them.  I’ve seen that work for other communities.  You can also enforce a residential rule and offer a subscription fee for those who are not part of the local tax base (so it is not “free” for all, but for those who are already paying taxes).

    Publishers like O’Reilly already offer institutional pricing.  Perhaps the e-books could be free while in the library, and software could be used to check out few e-books for “offline” reading as well.  That way it wouldn’t impact the high end consumer space much.

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