San Jose has worked hard to renovate and reopen its libraries, but the Alviso Branch Library has been historically left behind.
North San Jose’s only library serves the biggest population, but has seen the smallest amount of infrastructure funding. When San Jose dispersed library bond funds in 2000 to rebuild or modernize the majority of its 23 public branches, Alviso was one of two that did not see any dollars—despite it being one of the oldest, smallest and most in need. The other branch was the Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch, which is getting renovated now with the remainder of the bond funds.
Councilmember David Cohen, who represents Alviso, said it’s because the city has toyed with rebuilding the library, so renovations didn’t seem worth it at the time. It also had modest renovations the year before. But with no plans to rebuild, Cohen is calling on the city to invest more to fix old carpets, chipped paint and outdated technology and furniture.
“Fast forward 20 years, Alviso still hasn’t been renovated, but San Jose has grown a lot. This is really the only place in the city that’s way below the target for libraries per resident,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “We need to build out another library for residents in North San Jose. But in addition, we need to do something to fix up Alviso.”
Last year, the branch received a $600,000 grant from the state that the city is matching to repair the roof and HVAC system. But that $1.2 million is not enough. According to the city’s budget office, it would cost more than $800,000 to complete the rest of the repairs and bring it up to the same standards as other libraries in the city.
“I wanted to see customer-facing improvements that bring the library up to the modern era like the other branches,” Cohen said. “We don’t necessarily have that money available right now, but I’ve asked that we look for future grants and other funding sources to try to get that done.”
City Librarian Jill Bourne said the $1.2 million in state and city dollars will fund critical safety repairs. The timeline is still being worked out. She said she doesn’t agree that Alviso has been left behind.
“I think services across all libraries are very similar,” Bourne told San José Spotlight. “I think the only difference is the renovations. The reality is it was a repurposed facility from the beginning, so there are some challenges with that.”
But the costs outlined by the city do not address expanding the Alviso library or building another North San Jose branch, Bourne said. She said now that renovations at Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch are in the planning phase, Alviso is the following priority. The next is to open another library in North San Jose.
Sunnyvale resident Quien Fitting said there aren’t many libraries in that part of the South Bay, which is why she drives to Alviso. She said North San Jose desperately needs a new library and she would love to see Alviso renovated.
“Because it’s smaller, they can’t store that many books. So I have to reserve books from other libraries and then pick it up here,” Fitting told San José Spotlight.
Fitting and her two daughters appreciate the small, cozy vibe, but she admits it doesn’t have much space for adult books and would enjoy a larger selection.
For Alviso residents, the library is another reminder of how the neighborhood is forgotten. Richard Santos, a Valley Water director and longtime former Alviso resident, said the disinvestment of the local library epitomizes the treatment Alviso has seen since it was annexed into San Jose 55 years ago.
“Here’s the deal. It’s called discrimination. Look at Willow Glen (compared to Alviso),” Santos told San José Spotlight, referring to the annexation of both towns into San Jose. “What do you think the difference is? Alviso is largely Latino and disadvantaged.”
He said its evident in the city’s broken promises to build a park, the decrepit historical buildings that have not been protected, streets that have never been completed and much more. Santos said he fought to get the library opened. When it did, he raised close to $100,000 for books and other resources. He has a plaque in the library for those efforts.
“If your neighborhoods look good, you feel good. Why wouldn’t we want that for the library—the hub of your children and seniors that come there for education?” Santos said. “We aren’t asking for more, we are asking for the same. We aren’t the stepchild.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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