Redwood City reduces time with history

If you want to learn about Redwood City’s history, you’ll have a few less hours a week to do it.

The Archive Room at the Redwood City Library has had to reduce its hours after budget cuts forced the library to cut the half-time staff member who worked there.

Now, the archive room is only open when a volunteer is there.

The room has a large collection of newspapers, books and photos documenting southern San Mateo County’s history. It is frequently used by students of history, as well as planners and developers seeking to learn about the history of a property.

It was built into the city’s main library when the building was converted from a firehouse at the behest of Karl Vollmayer, the city librarian at the time. The room has always been staffed by library employees since then, but that ended recently when the library administration was notified it had to cut $500,000 out of the budget.

Faced with hard decisions, Redwood City Library Director Dave Genesy said he had to pull the staff from the local history room, in addition to cutting hours drastically at the Schaberg Branch. That branch’s hours have been reduced from 43 to 20 hours a week.

Since the staff person was pulled out of the Archive Room, local historian John Edmonds has taken it upon himself to staff it, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, an act he calls a “burden of love.”

Previously, the room was open 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Edmonds, who has written several books on Peninsula history, said he is hoping to train other volunteers to staff the room so they can share the responsibility.

But he said he hopes the situation won’t always be that way.

“I hope not. I’m 71 years old, after all,” he said. “I think they’ll go back to having staff when money comes back into the system and things start to improve — I hope.”

But Genesy was not as optimistic about the future of the Archive Room or some of the other services and hours libraries across the Peninsula have had to cut in recent years.

“I think things are fundamentally changing,” Genesy said. “I think it’s really incumbent on administrators and staff to really look at how we do business and think about doing it differently. It’s just a new way of looking at services and really defining what is important for us to provide.”

Check it out

What the Redwood City Library provided in 2008-09:

  • Loaned more than 1.5 million items
  • 67,000 library card holders used their card
  • 300,000 books, music and movies in four libraries
  • 895,000 visits to libraries
  • 325,000 visits to the library website
  • 1,400 volunteers gave more than 100,000 hours
  • 116,000 children and families attended library programs or received homework help
  • 3,062 programs offered
  • 1,347 uses of meeting rooms with an attendance of 41,220
  • More than 300,000 computer uses on 130 public computers

Source: Redwood City Library

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