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Something to Check Out

In my teenage years, my appreciation and love of the written word brought me to my local library. I enjoyed my time there so much that I began to volunteer and eventually applied for my first (and so far only) job there as a departmental aide. The staff of librarians, library aides and other departmental aides became my second family for 3 ½ years. The John F. Kennedy (JFK) branch became my second home. The staff of JFK watched me grow from a timid 17-year-old into the grown and ambitious woman who is typing these words. Now, a graduate of Solano Community College, I will soon begin classes at Sonoma State University in the fall to pursue my career as a journalist. The article you hold in your hands happens to be my first paid work; this opportunity given to me by Local Happenings Magazine to command the beginning of my career.

Libraries have changed significantly since their creation, observing the changing technologies and needs of the people. From etching thoughts onto stone slates to having millions of fiction and non-fiction titles viewable from a tablet computer with a brilliantly glowing touch screen, much has changed indeed. Amazing technological strides have been made, and continue to be made by modern libraries to uphold the written word and its excellence all over the world.

Having worked at the John F. Kennedy branch in Vallejo for such a significant amount of time, and during what were perhaps the most formative years of my life, it is my honor to share with the readers of this fine publication all that the library has to offer its patrons, such as its resources, events, programs, and collections you can check out and take home with a simple rectangular piece of plastic. All that is at your fingertips, absolutely free of charge and designed to make you, the patron, enjoy every second you spend within the walls of your local library.

Libraries still house shelves upon shelves of non-fiction books that range from topics on religion, math and science, as well as cookbooks (which are extremely popular) and numerous biographies that document the extraordinary stories of people from ancient and recent history. There is also a plethora of novels in different genres for children, teens and adults alike that are readily available for checkout. These services are reminiscent of what libraries have always offered. What deviates in recent years are the scores of new materials and resources available in response to the new technologies.

One of the first changes I would like to share is the shift in materials available for patrons to checkout. Libraries now have a myriad of DVDs, CDs, books on CDs and different magazines for patrons to check out. Some branches still house VHS and cassette tapes.

The invention of the Internet has taken the world by storm. As a college student internet access is essential to the process of researching. There was once a time when a student could write an essay on a piece of paper and get by, but I am afraid those times are long gone. It was a long time before I had my own computer. What allowed me to flourish in my high school career was the ability for me to utilize the computers at the library.

Most library computers have Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access that are easily usable – all you need is your library card. If you need to print something, libraries have printers networked to the public computers that anyone can use.

Libraries have started to provide numerous services and information through the web via their respective websites as well. One difference that has come with web capability is that libraries have added e-books and e-audiobooks to their collections. These downloadable books are readily available from the corresponding library websites and have a wide range of titles. Patrons can also keep track of their library account through the website and can request and renew items this way, which saves them a trip down to the library when pressed for time. According to Caroline Gick, the Senior Community Library Manager of the Orinda branch, “the Contra Costa County Library also offers users access to an extensive collection of downloadable media through its website ccclib.org and its mobile app.”

Yet another metamorphosis that has taken place for libraries in recent years is their attention to their surrounding communities. At JFK, departmental aides such as myself are often paired up and assigned to set up the Joseph Room. This room is the main auditorium for events and programs. Programs and services are broken up into three categories: adult, young adult and child.

What has served as a major influence over the types of adult programs and services that libraries now offer is the immense increase in the unemployment rate. “The library tries to be responsive to what is going on in the world,” says Solano County Library’s Community Relations Coordinator Ann Miller.

Programs such as computer classes and one-on-one computer tutors for patrons are available to help those interested in learning about computers. Computers are becoming essential to most fields of employment and libraries are working with patrons to make sure these changes do not hinder their success. “Several libraries offer one-on-one, volunteer-provided computer sessions to help customers with a variety of computer learning needs,” says Gick in regards to Contra Costa libraries. “These sessions are often booked in advance and are quite popular throughout the county.”

There are some interesting programs available on the Solano and Napa county websites that are designed to aide patrons in achieving their career goals. Of course, this programming is all virtual and intended for those who are already comfortable accessing and utilizing the web. Through the Solano County website there is also Live Career help. Through this site you can communicate virtually with a career expert to help develop your resume, cover letters and gain tips on having a successful interview. Napa County Library has an equivalent program called LifeWORKS that offers help with interviewing, resumes and cover letters as well. How LifeWORKS differs is that unlike Live Career Help, it offers programming at the library itself in the form of workshops on career-related topics.

Of course, in accordance with the appreciation for literature that radiates from libraries and their staff, several adult book clubs are in place in Solano, Napa and Contra Costa counties. A book is chosen each month and, on a given day, a group of patrons meet with one or more librarians to discuss different interpretations of the chosen literary work of that month. Most libraries have both an afternoon and evening book club. Each group meets to discuss the chosen literature for that month.

A sad reality, which I was forced to face and accept from my years at JFK, is that there are adults that cannot read. Fortunately, libraries have realized this truth and have set up literacy programs for people learning English as a second language or for those whose circumstances simply prevented them from learning. Solano, Napa and Contra Costa counties all have literacy programs in place and tutors throughout the week who work with these people to teach them to become literate and to thrive in their community.

For young adult patrons, programming includes entertaining video game programs like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and various games on the Nintendo Wii. Variations of these video game center programs are held at Napa and Contra Costa branches as well. Unique to Napa County, the Napa Main Library offers a Teen Movie Showcase that features the short film creations of their young adult patrons.

Another teen program featured at Napa libraries is the Write Club for those interested in building creative writing skills and sharing their work with others who love to write. This club meets at the Napa Main Library the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. At Contra Costa, there are programs such as a day of henna tattoos for patrons, arts and crafts related programs, movie showings in the afternoons and a knitting club, which I think is a great way for teens to learn a skill that can potentially bridge the generation gap with their parents and grandparents alike.

Aside from programs like these, libraries have programs to assist young adults in their studies. Kaplan hosts free ACT and SAT prep for high school students preparing their college applications. There is homework help both in person with tutors and online through programs like Live Homework Help via the Solano County library website. Also through the website, students who have library cards have free access to a number of databases that they can use for research on a number of topics.

For those who are studying a foreign language, which is mostly high school students, and even transferring college students such as myself, a program called Mango Languages is available through the Solano and Napa county websites. This program has lessons in Spanish, Italian, Japanese, French and many others. Like all online services, access to this program comes entirely free with your library card number.

To counter the possible slump in reading among school age children during the summertime, and to spark interest in pre-readers, the library offers events and reading challenges to its youth. The summer reading program has a different theme each year. This year was “one world, many stories” which is the same theme at Solano, Napa, and Contra Costa counties. Performances such as magicians, puppet shows, jugglers and special readings take place each year to keep children excited about going to the library.

Libraries have taken incredible strides in maintaining the welcoming atmosphere, the friendly librarians and staff, and the collection of books and items that encompass the spectrum of knowledge and entertainment.

What has changed in recent years is that libraries are more involved in their surrounding community than ever before. I have witnessed the bright exuberance of the children, the gratitude from the students and the grand appreciation that comes from the adults who are helped to find exactly what they are looking for. In my time at JFK I have also witnessed the discussions, the work and the decisions that have been made to improve what the branch offers, all with the idea in mind that the patrons and the community comes first. Why not take time out of your schedule to visit the library nearest you and find out if they have what you need. To quote the Solano County library saying: “unlock the doors to your mind” today.


Sarah Dowling is a Journalism student and a recent graduate from Solano Community College. Growing up in Vallejo, she sets her sights on her Communications B.A. by moving to Rohnert Park to attend Sonoma State University.