Palo Alto is known as a particularly affluent area of California. It is home to many tech entrepreneurs and was once the headquarters to social networking giant Facebook, the city has its claims to fame. Despite this, Palo Alto libraries had remained in a relatively sad state for some time. Most of the libraries a 30 years old or older, and lack the space needed for more modern program areas, or even simple facilities like study rooms. Some of the branches even lacked air conditioning – a daunting prospect considering that the area regularly receives 90 degree+ days. Some of the libraries were even shutdown for safety in the event of particularly hot summer weather.
It was way back in 2001 that a group of wealthy locals decided to start a fundraising collective with the goal of modernizing and improving these libraries for their communities. They pitched their idea to the community, who in turn latched on with gusto. Admittedly, improving the five local libraries for those that used them wasn’t a tough sell for most involved. Basically, the group wouldn’t be donating directly, but would head up various fundraising efforts and help plan them in such a way that they could have the best chances of success.
The progress that the organization has made in the past fourteen years is astounding, and has brought record levels of income into the Palo Alto system. The process has involved nearly 2,000 separate donors and has brought in roughly $4.5 million since the group was formed. The money has paid for major overhauls and renovations to all five of the branches; not only were study rooms added to each, but they all now house state of the art technology equipment as well to help patrons accomplish just about any task they might come in with. Fundraising did take some time, however, with the first renovation – occurring at the Downtown Library branch – happening not until the summer of 2011.
As of this past Valentine’s Day, the last of the renovations was completed when the Main Library branch reopened under a new name.
According to Susie Thom, the president of the Palo Alto Library Association since 2008, the group now feels that its original mission statement has been fulfilled, and is looking to bring the organization to its final chapter and shutdown. “As we looked at the library system as it is today,” she said, “…we concluded that we have met our mission.”
According to Thom, the last meeting of the organization will be on June 30th. Donations came in all sizes, and some of the larger sums came from groups within Google and other tech companies that had ties to the area. Even though the Palo Alto Library Association is shutting its doors, they have set a stunning example of what generosity, planning, and some hard work from a community can mean for a library system. Many such systems are struggling in the recent economic climate, and private endeavours like the one in Palo Alto may provide the blueprint for libraries in other areas.