It is considered a hidden gem of Oakland. The African-American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) is unique because it has a dual role of archive and museum.
Now AAMLO is in danger of closing as Mayor Jean Quan announced that various libraries and museums will be shuttered due to budget restraints. The AAMLO is on the chopping block list. The city is expected to file a possible $58 million deficit.
“The city of Oakland’s budget crisis could have a drastic impact on the Oakland Public Library if the City Council votes in favor of an all-cuts budget this month. The city council is scheduled to meet several times during the month of June, and is required by law to vote on a resolution by the end of the month,” says Rick Moss, chief curator of AAMLO.
The AAMLO is home to rare books, papers and memorabilia documenting black life in the Bay Area since California was still part of Mexico. It is also a research library, serving scholars, researchers and journalists from around the world. “AAMLO is unique to the Oakland Library systems, and is indeed unique to the kinds of African-American based cultural institutions that exist on the West coast. Given the historical role played by Oakland’s African-American community in the social revolution movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, it stands to reason that it should have an institution that honors and recognizes that legacy,” notes Moss.
The AAMLO draws its $600,000 operating budget from the general fund and Measure Q, which pays for Oakland’s libraries. It costs about $800,000 to operate. “The library receives its funding primarily from two sources: the city of Oakland’s General Purpose Fund and Measure Q, a dedicated library parcel tax passed by voters in 2004. Under Measure Q, the city may collect the parcel tax only if it authorizes General Fund support that is not less than $9.0509 million per year. General Fund appropriations, which also provide funding for many city services including public safety, have gradually been reduced to the library but have not fallen below the minimum requirement. Since fiscal year 2008-09, Measure Q makes up the majority of the library’s funding, now at approximately 60% of its total budget,” explains Moss. “The mayor’s fiscal year 2011-13 proposed budget has three scenarios: A, B & C. Scenario A is the “All Cuts Budget” and is the one that fundamentally affects the library and its services. It indicates a fiscal year 2011-12 General Fund appropriation for the library of $3.611 million. Because the city’s General Fund appropriation has fallen below the minimum requirement ($9.059M), the city cannot collect Measure Q funds. Scenarios B&C return the General Fund to the required minimum and allows for the collection of Measure Q. Under Scenario A, 13 libraries are scheduled to close, among them is AAMLO.”
The possible closure of AAMLO has outraged many in Oakland, as well as black historians across the country. “The AAMLO has received significant support from private citizens, civic organizations and the friends of AAMLO,” says Moss. And according to Moss, there are alternatives to the closing of AAMLO. “Since there are several libraries that are not on the “due to be closed” list, perhaps an active, vocal demand by the public to make sure that AAMLO is included on the list will get the ear of our elected officials,” Moss points out.
The fate of AAMLO will be decided on June 21.