Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sunnyvale Libraries

(Updated 4/5/2014 with 2012 publication data - the most recent)
Prelude: Given it's education and income level, Sunnyvale residents may very well want a bigger main library and several branch libraries.  This can be acheived through expansion and renovation - not tearing down the existing building.  BUT, Sunnyvale's library is by no means worse than average within the state.  It is in fact, dead average in floor space, and above average in several other metrics.

1. Summary: I show (using CA state library data for all library systems in CA) that Sunnyvale's library size is bigger (sometimes much bigger) than most comparably sized cities (on a per person basis).  Sunnyvale residents may want an even bigger library than the average for California. This should be done in the same way that others have done it - by adding on and renovating the existing library and converting some park buildings into libraries.  We see that out of 10 library systems closest to Sunnyvale's size only 2 - Torrance and Pasadena - have bigger systems (per capita).  Out of 36 other library systems of comparable size to Sunnyvale, only 20% have bigger library systems.  They achieve this mainly with lots of little branch libraries similar in size to our park buildings.  Sunnyvale can certainly do this and far more cost effectively than by tearing down our current library.

2.  Sunnyvale Library Size Compared to CA Average:
There are a number of publicly available documents summarizing key data for libraries in the State of California.  One from the CA State Library web site is reached by going to

Clicking on
Key Ratios and Performance Indicators-FY 2010-11
gets you here:

This is a table which you can sort by clicking on any column heading to sort by that statistic.  If we choose square feet per person we get the following (click on image to enlarge):
This shows that when you compare Sunnyvale to the average for all of California you get comparable square feet per capita:

For all of CA:  (Total Sq. Ft. of All CA Libraries) / (Total CA Population) = 0.4348
For Sunnyvale:  (Sunnyvale Library Sq. Ft.)/(Sunnyvale Population) = 0.4309

This puts Sunnyvale at the State average to 2 significant figures.  Only the town of Hemet (in So. CA) is any closer to the average for all of California.

3.  Sunnyvale Library Size Compared to Same Sized CA Cities:
How does Sunnyvale's library "square feet per person" compare to comparably sized CA cities?  This is easy to find with the same online database (which is also downloadable as an Excel Spread Sheet).  Sorting by population we get the following (click on image to enlarge):
We see above that of the 10 library systems serving a comparably sized population, only Torrance and Pasadena (2 out of 10) are more than 10% above Sunnyvale in Sq. Ft. per person. Several systems are below, or far below Sunnyvale.  This screen image was captured with 10 cities per page but going to 20 cities per page doesn't change anything - only the same 2 library systems are more than 10% above Sunnyvale's.  That screen is impossible to get a screen capture of but you can visit the web site (given above) and try it yourself very easily.

Torrance: (listed here: )  If you look at the Torrance branch libraries using Google satellite and street views, you see they are little more than the size of our city park buildings (following are 3 examples).
Torrance El Retiro Park Branch Library

Torrance SE Branch Library
Torrance Henderson Branch Library
Which suggests we could do wonders for accessibility and materials space by converting and possibly enlarging our existing park buildings.

4.  How Other Cities Get More Library Space
Pasadena: (listed here: )
The Pasadena Public Library is a famous 1927 building on the National Register of Historic Buildings.  It was modernized and enlarged several times to it's current size of 130,000 square feet.  It is worth a view (click to enlarge):
Pasadena's Historic Library - Preserved, Enlarged and Modernized

Lovely old preserved interior
This main library has been enlarged to 130,000 sq. ft
Modernized interior of the preserved and enlarged library
Again, we have one main library with a lot of little branches, in schools, parks,and local neighborhoods.  None except the main library are noticeably larger than our park buildings.

As I mentioned you can download in Excel spreadsheet format many of the documents listed on the CA Library Website.  I downloaded "Public Library Survey Data (2010-11 Fiscal Year) (635 KB XLS)" and after sorting by size of the "Library Service Area" (LSA) got the following 38 library systems near Sunnyvale in population (click to enlarge):
Counting those with sq.ft. per capita greater than Sunnyvale's, you can see only 6 of the 37 have over 10% more sq. ft. per person than Sunnyvale's and many have much less.

So what can we conclude?  That if we want more library space comparable to other similar sized cities, we should enlarge the current library and convert neighborhood park buildings into branch libraries.  I showed how one library with the same square footage as ours managed to double their total space from 60,000 sq. ft. to 120,000 modernized sq. ft. in:

I covered library costs for expansion and new construction in:

I showed other library expansion plans in:

5. How does Sunnyvale's library compare in other regards?

I asked the City for a reference to the 2007 library needs assessment study and they promptly sent me this link:

The links to the PDFs are on the bottom of the page.  (Click on image to enlarge)

It mentions on page 90 of the "Community Needs Assessment" document a report compiled annually by the California State Library called "California Library Statistics".  The latest I could find is for 2012 (covering 2010-2011) located here:

This has page after page of tables comparing every community library system in California.  On page after page we see Sunnyvale either at or far above the state average for many items - FTE staff per person, etc., etc.

Here are some comparisons that didn't make it into the "Needs Assessment" study.  From "StatsPub11.pdf" available at the web site mentioned above.

Page 8 of the document: "Expenditures Per Capita FY 2009-2010"
-> CA avg: $32.70 <-
San Jose: $35.99
San Rafael $39.87
San Bruno $44.01
* Sunnyvale: $50.20 *
San Mateo $50.24
Santa Clara $61.32
Mountain View $62.70
Menlo Park $69.95
San Mateo Co $65.44
Santa Clara Co $79.91

(Not a comprehensive list)
Sunnyvale is well above the CA avg and towards the lower end of the middle range of local communities. But this has to be taken with some recognition of population.  You wouldn't take the average income of Richtown of pop. 1,000 at $200,000 and a working class Bigcity of 1,000,000 at $50,000 and then declare that average salary in the two cities is ($250,000 / 2) for the total population of the two cities.  That would effectively result in counting each Richtown resident as equal to over 1,000 Bigcity residents.  So not counting San Jose really skews the data.  Omitting San Jose as ABA ("Anderson Brule' Associates") did in their "Needs Assessment" document cited on the Sunnyvale web site is misleading.

Some more data from StatPubs12.PDF:
Materials Expenditures Per Capita:  CA Avg = $2.68, Sunnyvale = $4.27  (pg 13)
Circulation Per Capita: CA Avg. = 6.41, Sunnyvale = 17.89 (pg 17)
Visits Per Capita: Avg. = 4.41, Sunnyvale = 5.19 (pg 19)

There's a ton of other data more relevant to whether we need more library space which I'll get to later (I still think we should expand Sunnyvale's library space, just not by selling the Civic Center). 

- Michael Goldman


  1. But Michael - as you point out "I then looked at other metrics of library use and found Sunnyvale's to be mostly FAR above average" - Sunnyvales library is used much more than others which means the demand is there. I downloaded the spreadsheet and sorted the results and Sunnyvale residents check out more items per year per capita and we have fewer hours open and we have one location! So when you combine a single location with high usage and short hours you get a parking lot that is full - just drive by any evening of the week.

    % spent on salaries - below average
    Books per thousand people - below average
    Total materials per capita - below average
    Hours open - bottom 10%
    Circulation per capita - top 15%
    Visits per capita - above average

    Sunnyvale is #58 in size in the state but on an income basis Sunnyvale is the wealthiest of those 58 - but our library is below average in key metrics - that is why people sense the need for and want a new library.

    Now if we only had the money in the budget for a library.....which gets us back to pension reform and the employee contribution rates.

  2. Thanks for yoru comment but I'm confused. Your words are in agreement with me but your tone is one of disagreement. I said we could use more library space. So where do we disagree? I said floor space expansion should be a combination of a bigger main library and several branch libraries. We could afford that through a bond issue much smaller than the one that almost passed (which was for over $100M). There is no need to sell the Civic Center.

    As I showed in my posting at:

    (also cited above) Southern Oregon University *doubled* their library floor space from 60K Sq. Ft. (ours is also 60K Sq. Ft.) to 120K sq. ft. for $32M (adjusted for inflation). We could do that AND have money left over to convert one or more park buildings into branch libraries. The City Staff proposed a concept to sell/lease the Civic Center for an 80,000 Sq. Ft. library. This would hardly budge the needle on library space per capita and would cost around $80M for a new library.

    You mention "hours open". The reason "hours open" is low is because we don't have any branch libraries. A branch library open half as long as the main library would mean a 50% increase in that metric. Two branches could easily double that number. Tearing down the main library to build a new main library would not improve that metric at all.

    You mention "total materials per capita". That shows on page 15 of StatPubs12.pdf (linked to above). Sunnyvale is 2.12. The state avg. is 2.13. That is a rounding error.

    Page 16 of StatPub12.PDF shows FTE staff at CA avg = 3,429, Sunnyvale = 2,774 (lower is better) so we are 23% better staffed than average.

    To reiterate, to get a better library space and accessibility for Sunnyvale we should expand and renovate the existing one and open several branch libraries.