A Year in Review

Due to the pandemic and other expected changes in City revenues, resources have been limited across the organization. This includes The Library Department budget, which remains below pre-pandemic levels for Fiscal Year 2022 and has resulted in reduced staff and service hours compared to FY 2020.

The unprecedented and challenging impact of COVID-19 pandemic prompted the Library to reimagine and deliver quality services that would support our community and aid in our recovery. As the Library has begun implementing its phased reopening program, the City would like to take a look back at FY 2021 and how it created a strong foundation for recovery in FY 2022 and beyond.

Please read our FY 20-21 (March 2020-June 2021) Annual Report, opens a new window to see what the Library provided the Palo Alto community.  

Community Support Call Center 

During the shelter in place order issued in March 2020, the Library, along with the Community Services Department, launched and maintained Palo Alto’s Community Support Call Center, while continuing to develop online virtual programs and resources for the community.

Budget Cuts and Service Reductions 

Early on in the pandemic it was clear that the City would have to deal with a $39 million deficit. Of that $39 million deficit citywide, the Library had to cut $1.6 million from its Fiscal Year 2021 budget of $10.3 million. This cut to the budget was achieved by a reduction to staff, collections, and business hours.

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Palo Alto Library, which provides us with crucial support and resources for our innovative and valuable events and services, had lost its primary revenue source in book sales. This further impacted our Library’s overall funding for programs and collections.  

FY21 Reductions and Service Impacts Included:   

  • Reduction in Collections budget by $150,000 (a 20% reduction)
  • Reduction of six full-time staff positions and 35 part-time staff (30%), resulting in 25% reduction in service days and hours
  • The Mitchell Park and Rinconada libraries are reduced to six days per week of service, with shorter open hours at Rinconada
  • The Children’s, Downtown, and College Terrace libraries are reduced to three days a week of service

Supporting City Communications and Recovery Efforts 

Library staff also assisted the City’s Public Information Officers group to produce content for the Coronavirus Report community newsletter (now Uplift Local) from March 2020 through June 2021. Staff researched and provided wellness and family resources for Palo Alto’s outreach efforts to assist in the city’s pandemic support and recovery efforts.

Virtual Programs & Initiatives 

The Library quickly moved all of its events online and was able to provide some unique offerings to customers. The Library was the recipient of three competitive grants from the Institute of Museums and Library Services and Pacific Library Partnership that provided funding and support to staff to present quality virtual programsThe Library provided 548 virtual events from April 2020 to June 2021 with 39, 415 attendees. 

Some of the highlights: 

  • Moved existing in-person programs online through Zoom, including book clubs, ESL classes and various Teen programs, storytimes and author events  
  • Launched Shelf Made, an online readers’ recommendation service, in May 2020, filling over 300 requests
  • The Library launched several initiatives including Book to ActionSummer Reading Program and Palo Alto Reads


Staff continued to promote Library events, services and resources, as well as City, community, and national initiatives, such as 2020 Census, elections and CV-19 updates and changes, on its various social media platforms and website.

Sidewalk Services

In summer 2020, the Library began providing limited checkout and return services for our community. The Library’s Sidewalk Services program provided our community with access to materials placed on hold. The Library provided this appointment-based service from July 2020 through April 2021. Prior to the pandemic, Library services depended highly on automation and customer self-service. Providing materials to customers during the pandemic closure involved a high degree of manual staff handling and processing of materials to ensure that they were provided safely and quickly to customers. During the ten months where the Library provided Sidewalk Services to our community, the requested items provided to our customers had to be individually retrieved, handled, transported between locations, processed, organized, and checked out to customers. The Library developed new and efficient processes to ensure that customers were able to access materials nearly as quickly and easily as before the pandemic closure, including utilizing BEAM robot technology to safely assist customers. The Library also continued to provide safe services by integrating new Sidewalk Service processes during the weeks of unsafe air conditions from wildfires during the late summer of 2020.

Reopening the Libraries 

In April 2021, the Library transitioned from virtual and Sidewalk Services to limited in-branch services. The Children’s Library reopened on April 13, followed by the Mitchell Park Library on May 4 and Rinconada Library on May 20. By June, the Library restored more services like additional seating, public computers and study rooms.

Library staff are excited to safely welcome customers back into our branches and appreciate that the City Council has elected not to make any further cuts for FY 21-22.

However, several retirements and resignations during the FY 20-21 fiscal year have impacted the Library’s ability to fully reopen the College Terrace and Downtown libraries, as well as expand open hours at the Mitchell Park and the Rinconada libraries.

When the City Council adopted the fiscal year budget in June, staff reported that we expect it to take 3-6 months before College Terrace and Downtown libraries can be reopened. However, understanding the community’s desire to open all the libraries, staff are working to secure the necessary staffing and resources to accelerate this reopening. We are therefore pleased to share the following plan for increasing availability to all neighborhoods:

  • Partially reopen the Downtown and College Terrace branches in late August 2021
  • Expand hours at the Mitchell Park and Rinconada libraries by mid to late September

The reopening of six days at Mitchell Park and Rinconada libraries (one shift 10-6 or 12-9) and three days at the Children’s, College Terrace and Downtown libraries will be completed once all vacant positions are filled. More information about reopening dates will be shared soon.

Since some of the branches will have limited hours of operation, the Library will be purchasing some Library-on-Demand vending machines and lockers for customers to pick up items. The Library will also be installing an automated materials handling machine in the Children’s Library to provide real-time check-in of returned items.

The Palo Alto City Library appreciates and thanks the community for its support and looks forward to continue providing high quality services.