March 2012 Report

Library Director’s Report- March 2012

We have been presenting several career workshops and computer trainings to help our community find employment or better their current career. Some of our programs included hands-on help with resume and interviewing; personal mentoring from Human Resources professionals; industry employers discussing job opportunities, qualifications and hiring processes; and weekly drop-in assistance for resume writing and online application filing.  These programs have been well received and attended and we plan on continuing to offer them. For example a new weekly program is providing volunteers with human resources experience offering personalized coaching in resume writing, refining career paths and interview preparation.

For the past eight years we have visited every Kindergarten class in the district to insure all our little ones get their first library cards (if they don’t already have one!). This initiative culminates with our KinderCard SuperSaturday celebration for the kindergarteners and their families. This year there were so many folks coming into the library’s big open house for the 5 -6 year old set that they overwhelmed staff handing out balloons, cards, prizes and goodie bags. “We couldn’t keep track!” they said. “We could barely keep up!” An estimated 1,800 people attended, making this our most successful KinderCard SuperSaturday ever! There were happy kindergartners everywhere, and we do mean everywhere.

Here are some of the stats and highlights:

  • Number of kindergarten classrooms visited by a librarian with some obviously stunningly effective outreach: 56 classrooms at 19 schools
  • Number of kindergartners who received a library card application and a visit: 1,680
  • Number of new library cards given out: 570, exceeding last year’s total of 441.
  • Number of balloon animals made by Mr. Lalo: He lost count, too!
  • Number of people jammed in the Community Room for two magic shows with Ask K the Pretty Good: Never mind – don’t tell the fire department.
  • Number of volunteers: 8 boy scouts, 2 boy scout parents and many adults.
  • Amount made by the Friends of the Library (our generous sponsors) in book sales: over $300.
  • Number of helium balloons that got away: 19. (Yes we even had a betting pool as to how many balloons would get away!)

 We learn something new each year we do KinderCard, so this year we added one more puppet show and scheduled a storyteller in the program room all morning to do continuous storytimes. We also kept crafts just simple enough to conserve staff time but not so simple that there were not many satisfied young artisans. Other triumphs: Spot the Dog only made a few kids cry; none of the boy scouts wearing the Spot costume passed out; none of the front desk staff passed out. Hooray for everyone who worked on SuperSaturday and for everyone who processed all those library cards applications.

And thanks to the Friends of the Library for sponsoring this library program!

The Library’s Maria Kramer, President of prestigious REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) spoke at the Public Library Association Conference on “Family Literacy Focus: Serving Diverse Communities through Innovative Library-based Programs”.

Some of the findings while preparing for this presentation:

  • 30% of high school students drop out before graduation
  • 50% of these dropouts are African American and Latino
  • American Indian and Alaska Native students have a dropout rate twice the national average
  • Asian and Pacific Islander students who struggle in school often fail to get the attention and resources they need
  • Chinese Americans’ education level varies according to their generation in the United States


  • 90 million adults read at or below the basic level
  • 11 million English speaking adults are non-literate in English
  • Parents and grandparents are the child’s first teacher
  • A child’s success in school depends on the adult’s literacy level


  • Reaching across generations and cultures
  • Building strong literacy practices in diverse communities

US Representative Jackie Speier’s event at the Downtown Library on Saturday was a success, thanks in large part to a great effort by our Library staff. Her event, coinciding with Women’s History Month, was aimed at girls ages 9 – 14, with the goal of inspiring them toward success. It featured as role models Congresswoman Speier as well as Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist Jan Yanehiro, civil rights leader Minnijean Brown Trickey, commercial pilot Kathleen Wentworth, and Associate Dean of San Francisco General Hospital Dr. Sue Carlisle.

Thanks to a generous grant from Cargill, the library was able to expand its popular Family Author Nights in the Schools program to include Roosevelt Elementary.

Family Author Nights, now in its 4th year, brings Latino authors and illustrators to the community by sponsoring bilingual presentations on campuses across the district. Copies of the presenters’ books are also given away to students. Holding these events in the school during the evening makes them family occasions, with everyone from babies to abuelas able to attend an event that’s all about the fun – and importance – of reading. One hundred people gathered at Roosevelt to hear a presentation by dynamic local illustrator Elizabeth Gomez (check out her mural in the Family Place Downtown). All of Roosevelt’s fourth graders will be getting art workshops taught by Elizabeth, also thanks to the Cargill grant. The Friends of the Library are sponsoring an additional six Family Author Nights, and the Cargill grant covered Adelante School, bringing the total of schools up to eight this year. Many thanks to our sponsors.

Partnering with Redwood City schools is one of the most satisfying things we do, especially when it’s with a program like Familias Unidas at Hoover School. Familias Unidas (Families United) is the brainchild of a Hoover third grade teacher and her husband. It’s designed to teach parents who have had no experience themselves with schools in the United States how their childrens’ schools work. What’s a book report? How do report cards work? When should I go talk to my child’s teacher? The library is proud to have become an integral part of Familias, making a visit each time the class is held. We talk about the importance of reading, and about all the library’s free services, and hand out library cards. It’s always gratifying how many people already have cards and how often they come to the library, but there are also always plenty of folks who get their first card during one of the visits. And a librarian has come to traditionally give the closing speech at each Familias graduation.

Not only is our Teen Center well used (more than 700 visits by 180 different teens), it also continues to reach out and intervene in teen lives, especially those who really need the supportive, educational and personal support that a traditional library does not offer. This from our Teen Librarian: “Last week I had three kids from Your House South (which is a group home in Redwood City offering a supportive place for families in conflict).  I helped two of the boys get replacement cards and cleared their accounts so they could use computers and check out materials. When they expressed a fear about not being able to get the book back in time I told them to come talk with me and we would work it out. They came again this week and brought a friend. She needed a card too so I got her a replacement card and removed all her fines as well. They seem very pleased to be here. Their adult advisor wasn’t with them this time so I gave one of the boys my business card to hand to him and found out where they were from.”  

Fair Oaks

  • A new Homework Center program at Fair Oaks is helping students  use the computer based programs that are used at school to practice reading and math. We are starting with two programs that are used at several schools. Students who have been assigned to practice their skills will be provided with assistance if they need it. 
  • Great follow up with the Police Department from our library staff, especially at Fair Oaks Library, has decreased many problems we have been having at the Downtown and Fair Oaks Libraries. Our officers have been very responsive and supportive when staff calls for help. Their visibility continues to deter and decrease the number of problems we have.
  • The County has started to work on the landscaping improvements. This month they cleaned up the area around the building and filled it with mulch. This should reduce the mud that gets tracked in by customers and also the dust that was generated from the dry dirt. 

Project READ

Last July we started a pilot small-group program at the Women’s Transitional Facility, a minimum-security jail program designed to provide women with necessary life skills and community resources, as they get ready to transition back to the community. This month Project READ introduced Families for Literacy Story Hour books and crafts to the group.  The women loved reading the children books aloud, discussing the themes presented in the book. They were especially excited when told that they would be able to keep a copy of the book to take home. One woman commented about the hardback edition of Eric Carle’s Rooster’s Off to See the World, “Wow, this is a really expensive book!  I can’t believe I get to keep it and take it home. My daughter is going to be so excited.”  After completing the 3 Story Hour crafts, the women were able to get ideas for at-home educational activities they can do with their children by using common household materials.

We started a new Fathers and Families small group at the McGuire Correctional Facility with 16 participants. Along with improving and expanding their parenting skills the fathers read and record a storybook that is then sent home to their children along with the book read, to add to their children’s home library.

We developed a new pilot series of small-group workshops at the Women’s Correctional Center. The workshops focus on phonics, spelling, writing, and grammar. 15 women are participating.

After simultaneous sessions of one-on-one tutoring and the writing workshop, a Sheriff’s deputy commented, “You have a great program. Wait, I should say that Project READ has a SUCCESSFUL program.  All of the women who participate are engaged in learning and seem to really enjoy the classes.”

An article from the San Francisco Chronicle on the exploding popularity of e-books and the struggles public libraries are having with publishers:

The popularity of e-readers is soaring, but good luck finding that hot new title at your local library.

Most large publishers refuse to sell critical portions of their digital catalogs for library lending, and those that do are imposing stiff fees and onerous rules.

It’s one more point of contention over the behavior of these companies, as the Justice Department reportedly threatens to file a lawsuit accusing them of collusion in the consumer e-book market.

The worry in this case is that as more and more reading occurs on digital devices, these sorts of restrictions could chip away at the value of libraries – and the societal good they promote in providing equal access to information.

“If we’re not allowed to have access to or even allowed the ability to purchase that broad array of titles, what does that mean for the longevity of the library?” asked Trent Garcia, electronic resources librarian for the San Francisco Public Library. “What is our role if we don’t have access to that content?”

Many libraries do, of course, already offer digital content, but it tends to be either books from smaller publishers or tightly limited catalogs from larger ones.

Simon & Schuster and Macmillan make almost none of their digital content available for library lending, according to the trade publication Library Journal and library sources. Hachette Book Group and, as of late last year, Penguin Group (USA) restrict sales to backlog titles.

Random House and HarperCollins do sell e-books to libraries, but the former just raised prices to library wholesalers like OverDrive by as much as three times, and the latter requires publishers to acquire a new license after a book has circulated more than 26 times.

Major struggle

What’s at work here?

Publishers have never been thrilled about public institutions lending out their products for free, because it might undercut total sales. (It’s a debatable point since libraries also encourage lifelong reading habits.) But U.S. copyright laws have long protected the rights of libraries – or individuals – who legally acquire books to lend them out.

The nature of digital books, however, gives publishers a new opportunity to assert greater control through technology, terms of service and pricing power. Libraries can’t simply buy the virtual books and hand them out in the way they can with physical ones.

The Association of American Publishers and several of the companies in question didn’t respond to inquiries from The Chronicle. But they’ve argued in the past that lending e-books is a graver threat than physical ones, demanding a different set of restrictions, because of the lack of “friction.”

In other words, to borrow and return a physical book, a person has to get themselves to an actual library at least twice. With digital, they can just as easily download a free book from the library, as they can a full-priced version from Amazon.

Mary Minow, Follett Chair at Dominican University and a library law consultant, argues there are critical differences that do add some sand back into the gears. She noted that e-books are still “due” after a few weeks and that there are wait times for popular titles since libraries acquire licenses to only a specific number of copies.

Some libraries are already pushing back, at least implicitly asserting that existing copyright laws already apply to the digital sphere.

The academic libraries at Texas A&M University have simply been buying digital books in the consumer market and loading them up on Kindles that they then lend out. Others have done the same.

But some of these institutions might be operating in a legal gray area, since the terms of use for some e-readers seem to bar that sort of use.

“Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party,” read the terms for Amazon’s Kindle (emphasis mine).

The Sacramento Public Library announced last year that it would begin lending out Nooks with limited content, though it did so through a partnership with Barnes & Noble.

To clear up any legal uncertainty and protect the privacy of library users, Minow argues that legislators need to amend federal copyright law to assert that libraries can own and lend digital books.

Clarifying ownership

The word “own” is deliberate here, because she believes libraries need to preserve their archives no matter how wholesalers or publishers alter their licensing terms over time. In addition, she said it’s difficult to prevent the likes of Amazon or Barnes & Noble from collecting information about reading habits – a hot-button issue in the library world – so long as they’re dependent on the normal licensing arrangements.

Others watching this space also think new legal protections are necessary to protect the role of libraries.

“If the companies persist, the library will no longer be a preserver of the cultural record or a provider of community services that assist people who don’t have the money to go out and buy this content,” said Sarah Houghton, the interim director at the San Rafael Public Library who has drawn attention to these issues on her Librarian in Black blog. “We bridge the digital divide and the content divide.”

James Temple is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Dot.commentary runs three times each week. Twitter: @jtemple.

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