Community Engagement: What We’ve Learned From Listening to our Communities (Fall 2023)

The San José Public Library is committed to connecting and listening to San Jose residents. One way we do this is by visiting public events and talking to residents and neighbors. What kind of community would you like to live in? What concerns do you have about your neighborhood? What kind of services and programs would you like to have at the library? These are the questions we've been asking and we've been learning a lot about the communities we serve.

5 SJPL Library Branches Share

SJPL library staff members share what they have been learning from the communities they are serving.

Almaden Branch | Alviso Branch |Alum Rock Branch | Willow Glen Library | West Valley Branch


Almaden Branch Library

Almaden Branch Library staff went out to two schools for this quarter: Castillero Middle School and Simonds Elementary.  This year, instead of busily passing out Almaden’s calendar of events, I relaxed somewhat and focused more on engaging parents.  I had books to pass out to parents interested in answering some of my four questions.  I took out the Your Voice Matters poster and used that as a means to start a conversation with parents.  I asked what they liked about their community including the library which was right next to their school.  The parents replied that they loved the fact that the library was so close to the school and to the community center.  They loved how the three were close together.

Many of the parents also expressed their enthusiasm for the library and all the books we had.  One parent mentioned that they wished we had more reading programs.  I mentioned our Summer Learning program, and she said that she did participate in it, but mentioned that the prize structure for summer learning did not work for younger children.  She mentioned how the book that we received at the beginning of the program did not really help motivate children to read, because the book was given away at the beginning.  She would like to see more reading programs that encouraged children to read.  I mentioned our Reading to Furry Friends program, but told her that I would definitely let our Summer Learning Committee know about her feedback.


Alviso Branch Library

Alviso Branch branch staff had the opportunity to table at two well attended events, Day on the Bay and Community Night at George Mayne Elementary.   “Day on the Bay” is an event where many community organizations gather near the Alviso marina and the community visits to see what their neighborhood is up to as well as have a nice day out near the water! At Day on the Bay, we were able to make contact with over 500 community members, giving away a lot of free books, signing up people for library cards, and promoted upcoming programs at the Alviso branch. In the week following, we also attended Community Night at our neighboring George Mayne Elementary school where we had over 150 community members see our table.  However, given the high energy and variety of tables to visit at both these event, most of the participants couldn’t stay at our table for long. Despite this, we still were able to receive some feedback from the community for our Community Conversations data.

While most respondents didn’t answer our Ask 4 Questions directly, they did still leave a lot of positive feedback and wishes that the library can try to fulfill. Based on the first question – “What kind of community do you want to be part of?” – most respondents had their kids in mind! Some participants asked for more storytimes, social activities for kids, as well as art and STEM programs. With the question “How could the library help create the kind of community you want?”, many respondents shared a variety of programs they like to see such as more storytimes (as mentioned earlier), more cultural enrichment programs, and even more hours!

Although we couldn’t get as many direct answers to the Ask 4 Questions, a lot of the feedback is still useful, and we love to hear it! Since Alviso only has one weekly storytime, we certainly can consider adding another one in the week to expand the reach of our audience. We also can look to provide more family activities – we certainly do enjoy that focus in our branch and it is not a huge ask so more to come from Alviso!

Overall, as reflected in previous year’s report, Alviso’s community is growing and made up of many new families looking for activities their children can enjoy as well as opportunities to socialize. This has been a focus of the Alviso branch for the past year and we look forward to providing more where we can!

Some direct quotes:

  • “We love the libraries and librarians!! Thank You/Gracias!”
  • “Storytime for kids is always fun”
  • “Love the Makerspace van”


Alum Rock Branch Library

Dr. Roberto Cruz Alum Rock Branch Library Dr. Roberto Cruz Alum Rock Branch Library got the chance to attend Alum Rock Middle Schools Back to School Night! While chatting with some of the parents of the Alum Rock Middle school students, we learned more about what they were hoping to see from their local library. Some of the requested improvements that the Alum Rock parents were hoping to see were parenting workshops and help with late fees. In fact, parenting workshops was given as a response by multiple parents. This is the first time we have heard this type of response and are working to see how we can create a program to help parents through the parenting process. It was a fun and informative night!


Willow Glen Branch Library

Willow Glen Branch Library Staff this quarter took the 4 ASK Question poster out 3 times to get some feedback from the Willow Glen community, with the intent of targeting parents & caregivers. For our first event, one of our librarians went to a Back to School Night event for parents at Presentation High School. Unfortunately, her table was situated in a low traffic area and she was only able to speak to 20 parents, of which only 3 opted to respond to one of the questions on the board. Most parents that stopped were in a rush to get to their kids’ classrooms, but 3 answered what type of community they wanted to be a part of: "a safe community”, “an inclusive community”, and “trustworthy community”.

The remaining two events we brought our questions to were more casual and impromptu visits to a local neighborhood park – the Willow Street Frank Bramhall Park – on a Sunday and Monday morning, near the children’s playground. Again, most who passed by were intent on their own activities, but we did get several parents and caregivers to stop briefly to answer a few questions for the lure of free books. As it turned out, most of the folks who stopped by and responded were regular library users who recognized me from our Storytime program, so many of the answers they gave us revolved around that program and the topic of children’s programming.

One thing I noticed was that about half of the respondents spoke little to no English. Overall, most seemed happy with their community, in one instance elaborating that it is better now than it used to be with more members of different cultures included in the community. One person who did not speak any English did respond that she did not feel like a part of the community, not being able to converse in English.

Some of the adjectives used to describe their ideal communities were: inclusive, respectful, well educated, and a community that embraces and helps each other. When asked about how the library could help, and for our additional question, what types of library programs they wanted to see (or see more of), we heard: more storytimes and music programs for younger children, including special programming for kids with special needs, and storytimes at different times to accommodate kids already in school. Other requested programs were more science-based programs for older kids, chess club or other socializing programs for older kids, tech programs for seniors, and classes to learn English.

As staffing allows, we will take the community feedback we have heard and try to expand our programming in the areas that were requested. In talking to respondents, we also got to advertise some of the programs we are already doing that they may not have been aware of such as our weekly Friday Fun program, monthly Wee Love Art, weekly Reading to Children, Tech Assistance 3 times a week, and English Language Learners Conversation Club 2 times a week.


West Valley Branch Library

West Valley Branch Library Librarian Randall attended several Back to School Nights at elementary schools in the Moreland School District. These schools included Anderson Elementary, Easterbrook Discovery School, and Country Lane. He asked parents who stopped by his information Table to complete a brief survey. The survey asked respondents to share their aspirations and concerns for the community and how they hope the library might play a role in helping the community meet those aspirations.

Survey results suggest that community members want a friendly, helpful, and connected community where neighbors know each other and help each other. In addition, respondents wanted a safe community with plentiful community events and educational and recreational opportunities for children. Several respondents feel that their community is already close to their ideal community. Others were less positive, expressing concerns about safety, neighbors not knowing each other, and inadequate opportunities for children to play and learn outside of school.

Respondents hoped the library could address some of their concerns by offering more programs, especially community events where neighbors could get to know each other and programs aimed at children and families (for example, theater programs, reading programs, holiday celebrations, movie nights, video game programs, etc.). Several respondents noted that the library is already offering programs that many in the community don’t know about. They suggested stronger marketing and promotional efforts by the library to better inform residents about library programs and services.