The Foothills Library War: An Introduction, Overview & Linkfest

When a library is endangered, I get concerned. The first book I remember reading, Space Cat, when I was six years old, came from the library. I've been a constant user of libraries since, no matter how many books I bought and still own. Any time Hilde and I have moved to a new city, one of the first things on our agenda has been to get a city library card.

Libraries are important. Not just to us personally, but to the public and to civilization at large. The growth of public libraries over the last 150 years or so has been one of the most progressive, beneficial, and praiseworthy accomplishments in American history. 

When it's my own local library that's endangered, I get very concerned.

Many people, even locally, haven't heard about this yet. I'm writing this post as an introduction to the issue, both for people affected locally and those people in the general public who care about libraries.

First, a little background. OK, a lot of background, but even this barely scratches the surface. :

I've been spending a lot of time the last few weeks here in Glendale, Arizona, where Hilde and I have lived since 1985, trying to help save our local library branch, Foothills, from having 80% of its books removed (about 140,000) and the remainder of the library's holdings moved from it's current 33,000 square-foot building and crammed into a 9,000-sqft space at a nearby city aquatics/recreation center. (Bad news for the rec center too, because they've been using those meeting rooms for classes and things like table tennis.)

The Foothills Branch Library serves the northern portions of Glendale. It opened in 1999, on land purchased from Midwestern University, a large osteopathic college located across the street. The purchase contract stipulated that MWU would be given first option to offer to buy the land and building at some future date.

Midwestern made such an offer in early 2014, for 5 million dollars. Knowledge of that offer only became public last month, when a proposal to accept the offer, downsize the library, and move the remainder to the recreation center was placed on the city council agenda. That triggered three public meetings earlier in February, before the various advisory committees for Recreation, Libraries, and Arts. (The Foothills library has a massive Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, valued at $400,000, hanging from its lobby ceiling. Midwestern's offer included the purchase of that, and other valuable public art, as part of the sale.)

At the meetings, the city's Recreation head, Eric Strunk, and the newly appointed Chief Librarian Michael Beck gave a Powerpoint presentation in support of the proposal. The Powerpoint presentation has been widely criticized for dubious and confusing numbers, highly lacking in hard data, the lack of any mention of negative impacts,  and using not-to-scale conceptual drawings of how the rec center space would be used. (The drawings also use false perspective to make the rec center's rooms appear larger than they actually are.) 

But what really sticks in people's craw is that this proposal to eviscerate and downsize the library is labelled "an expansion of library services". Yes, "expansion"; they really used that word. (The rationale is that digital offerings, and equipment to access them, will be expanded. By how much? How  quickly? Are there any guarantees the city will authorize an adequate budget -- in 2013, the average price a library paid per ebook was $63; the average cost for printed books in libraries that same year ranged from $6.17 to $27.78 -- to expand digital offerings? Vague answers, or none, to those and many other questions. Smoke and mirrors and bullshit.)

Besides the prospect of seeing their library gutted, residents are also upset about the $5 million dollar offer from MWU. The library's construction originally cost 7.8 million. A similar building constructed now would cost about $17 million. If Midwestern gets the library building for only $5 million, many Glendale residents would consider that to be, literally, a steal. (Two appraisals, one by MWU, one by the city, both came in under $5 million for the building's value. There have been questions raised about the city's appraisal process; the appraiser was paid $4,999; under the city's requirements, if he had asked for a single dollar more, $5,000, the appraisal would have had to be publicly posted for bids and the city council advised, instead of being kept hidden for nearly a year until it came to light.)

Why would the city of Glendale even consider this? Previous city administrations made high-risk investments in bringing sports venues to the city -- a football stadium, hockey arena, baseball training camp -- none of which have brought in the predicted revenue for the city, and have instead left Glendale saddled with massive and continuing debt and expenses. It was bad business deals that got us into this mess; why make yet another bad business deal that will only give partial and temporary relief? (If the entire $5M was used to service those debts, it would pay for less than four months of the hockey arena's expenses alone.)

The public has been extremely opposed to the sale, and the proposed move to the rec center. One poll noted 93% disapproval. At the three meetings, when members of the public were given a chance to speak, no one spoke in favor of the sale. Regardless, there's a great deal of concern that during the months between MWU's offer to buy and the public finally learning of the offer, there may have been a handshake-under-the-table deal between MWU and the city that the sale will be approved no matter how loudly Glendale citizens object.

The various advisory committees will meet again in March, to decide on a recommendation to the city council about the proposal. The city council will meet some time after that for a final decision.

This is way more than you probably want to know about local Arizona politics, but libraries, books, what make a city a good city, all those are important.

Links to various websites, news articles, blogs, and other commentary and information:

This page on Glendale Public Library's website provides links to the Powerpoint presentation, conceptual drawings, an updated FAQ sheet, the two appraisals of the library building, and a form on which to submit comments. I'll be making a later post about the FAQs -- some of the answers don't pass the smell test, and some of the information in the updated version is only there because too many people called foul on obvious BS -- and on portions of the city's appraisal.

Best Commentator To Date:

The best reportage on this has come from Joyce Clark, a former City Council member, who's been doing a continuing series of reports about the library issue on her blog,  Joyce Clark Unfiltered. Below is a list of posts so far:
Other Library Supporters:
Twitter: Save The Library 
Twitter hashtags: #savethelibrary #stopthetrend

Individuals speak out:
Shelley Mosley, retired Library Manager: Look Past The Hype
Valerie Burkhardt Betters: text of an outstanding speech given at 2/11 meeting; well worth reading, and I'm planning to highlight it in a separate post.

News Reports:

New York Times, 1/26: Albatross of debt weighs on super bowl city This recent NYT piece gives some background of Glendale's financial woes.

Your West Valley, 2/6: $5M deal would move Glendale's Foothills library to rec center

KTAR 12 News, 2/9: North Glendale residents not thrilled by library sale

Your West Valley, 2/11: Residents throw book at proposed north Glendale library sale

KTAR, 2/12: Arizona Coyotes subsidy prompts proposed sale of library branch: More background on the high-risk gambles Glendale made, and lost, on its sports venues investments.

Glendale Daily Planet, 2/12, Glendale Citizens Not Buying Sale of Foothills Library. This is the most through coverage of the Feb 11th meeting I've seen. (There's even a picture of me!) You have to scroll down to find the story; this local online paper is presented as a single very (very) long webpage, rather than providing links to separate presentation of each story.

I speak at the Feb 11th Foothills Relocation meeting.
Photo by Ed Sharpe, Glendale Daily Planet
arizona.newszap.com, 2/16, "Potential library relocation causes community concern"

Glendale Star, 2/17: Foothills patrons defend their library

Miscellaneous Documents:

factsheet on 2012 sales tax increase; In 2012, voters approved a city sales tax increase that was supposed to enable the city to deal with its debt problems and continue to provide public services. Among those services: "libraries".

Cholla Chats, Sept 2014: This City Council member's newsletter reported that MWU may be planning to build a seventh specialty college, one for Speech Pathology. There's been speculation that, if MWU succeeds in buying Foothills Library, they would use that as a wedge to buy the adjacent dog park and ballfields for the new college.

How To Help:

The Glendale City Council needs to understand that a good public library system is invaluable. It benefits the citizens, and it benefits the city. Downgrading the library system degrades the city as a whole; it affects business investments, the influx of new citizens, and the city's public reputation. Does the council really want Glendale to be perceived as "Detroit On The Desert"? That's the message passing this horrible proposal will send.

The "invisible benefits" predicted for the sports venues (growth of surrounding property, increased property values, etc) have never been met. The invisible benefits of public libraries, the benefits that come about when minds, particularly young minds, are used and exercised and given the widest possible opportunity to learn and grow, have been proven time and time again.

This is a list of email contacts for Glendale's mayor and council members,and a link to a map of the city's districts:
  • Mayor Jerry Weirs: jweiers@glendaleaz.com
  • Ian Hugh, Cactus District: ihugh@glendaleaz.com
  • Bart Turner, Barrel District: bturner@glendaleaz.com
  • Lauren Tolmachoff, Cholla District: ltolmachoff@glendaleaz.com
  • Gary Sherwood, Sahuaro District: gsherwood@glendaleaz.com
  • Sammy Chavira, Yucca District: schavira@glendaleaz.com
  • Jamie Aldama, Ocotillo District: jaldama@glendaleaz.com
  • Glendale District Map
Even if you're not a Glendale resident, letting the Mayor and Council know how important public libraries are, to individuals and cities and society at large, will help. Please write. 

"I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content." (Neil Gaiman, 2013)

1 comment:

Glendale Daily Planet said...

space cat! yes... I have that book!

ok 3 meetings coming up

This is when the boards and commissions will vote then send
thier wishes on to city council.
============ February 23, 2015 Special Meeting: Arts Commission==============
City of Glendale
Special Meeting: Arts Commission
Foothills Recreation & Aquatics Center, Coyote Room 5600 W. Union Hills Dr.
February 23, 2015
6:00 p.m.
============== February 25, 2015 Special Meeting: Library Advisory Board ===============
City of Glendale
Special Meeting: Library Advisory Board
Foothills Branch Library, Roadrunner Room
19055 N. 57th Avenue
February 25, 2015
6:00 p.m.
======== Special Meeting: February 26, 2015 Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission =======
City of Glendale
Special Meeting: Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission
Glendale Adult Center, Palo Verde Room
5970 W. Brown St.
February 26, 2015
6:00 p.m.
Possible Relocation of the Foothills Branch Library and Expansion of Library Services – 30 minutes