By Nilofar Gardezi
What does the Oakland Public Library (OPL) have going on that you need to know about but don’t? Chances are a whole heck of a lot. I walked into the Main Branch one recent afternoon and left with my spirit soaring and my eyes aloft, feeling like a born-again member- and I’m here to spread the gospel.
Want to read the latest issue of the Economist (or, ahem, US Weekly) on your phone or tablet? Just reach for your OPL card. You have full access to those magazines and an extensive database of others for free with your OPL membership.
Thinking of gardening this summer and eager to start growing your own vegetables or expand your current vegetable garden? Start by heading to a Seed Lending Library for free seeds.
Hoping to take your sweetie on a date to see the latest exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum? Flex that OPL card again and save $30 by printing a free museum pass for two to that museum—or a free or significantly discounted pass to a whole host of others.
Doing repairs around the house this weekend and need a tool? Come by the Tool Lending Library to check out a wide range of free tools suited to all types of home improvements and repairs.
Feeling crafty and DIY-y—this is Oakland, after all—and want to try something new? Sew your own tote with Oakland-based Rock Paper Scissors Collective at OPL. Absolutely no experience or materials needed.
Or, maybe all you need at the end of a long workweek is a good stretch? Toss on some comfortable clothes and head to the library on the weekend to learn easy, essential, and free office yoga from a yoga expert.
The list of free activities and resources goes on and on. (For more on innovative teen services, for instance, see this Oakland Local story from last year.) Who knew? Not me and, likely, not you.
Save Oakland Library (SOL) knows about them, though, and wants you to know in particular. More importantly, they want you to know that you’d miss these programs and countless others hosted by the library if the Oakland City Council and Mayor Jean Quan do not take major action and cover an anticipated $2.5-$3.5 million budget shortfall that threatens to close six to eight branches next year.
Formed last fall, SOL is a coalition of community organizations fighting to keep OPL open in the face of budgetary instabilities in recent years, says one of SOL’s leaders, Helen Bloch. Specifically, they are trying to find a more sustainable and long-lasting library budget, and they need your help.
In a June 6th report presented to the City Council and Mayor, the City’s budget office determined that the existing financial instabilities stem from an over-reliance on revenue from Measure Q, a parcel tax passed in 2004 and originally only intended as an enhancement measure for library services. Measure Q and the General Fund, which funds all city agencies, together comprise the vast majority of funding for OPL. However, as the report details, “since its passage in 2004, Measure Q parcel tax revenue has gone from a means to both ‘retain’ and ‘enhance’ library services in Oakland, to mere retention of basic services.”
To illustrate, in the 2003-04 fiscal year, the General Fund covered 63 percent of OPL’s costs and Measure Q covered the remaining 37 percent. By the 2011-12 fiscal year, however, the roles were fully reversed: the General Fund covered 37 percent of OPL’s costs and Measure Q covered 63 percent.
Because of SOL’s activism and efforts before the City Council and Mayor, the situation has improved. The City Council voted on July 1st to “[r]eserve $500,000 for an Oakland Public Library contingency for potential future funding deficiencies.”
But this is just a start and SOL and its supporters do not show signs of slowing down in their fight for a more sustainable library budget. To get there, they are asking for your help. Start by “liking” their Facebook page here to stay posted on what’s happening and get involved in future actions. In addition, find out more about supporting OPL by joining one of several active Friends of the Oakland Public Library groups or by donating to OPL directly. More information is available here.
In many ways, OPL is the original co-working space in Oakland, providing a dynamic and enriching space for thousands of children, teens, and adults each year. Co-working spaces are all the rage in our city right now and for good reason: they provide the opportunity to collaborate with the diverse groups of people who make up Oakland, to share collective space and inspiration, and to work in community. Let’s not see this original co-working space wane — because, as OPL’s website reminds us, it is truly “Your Library.”