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

Update July 2024: 

On Thursday, August 1, 2024, the SJ Access Circulating Hotspot program will end.

Beginning July 8th, all existing hotspot holds will be canceled, and hotspots will no longer be able to be requested. Additionally, the mobile data plans on all SJ Access Chromebooks will be discontinued as of July 16, 2024

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.

We're Listening!

Vineland | Hillview |Pearl Avenue | Village Square | Biblioteca Latinoamericano

Vineland Branch Library

Exterior of the Vineland Branch Library.

Vineland Branch Library staff visited the Princeton Plaza Farmers Market one November Sunday morning in an effort to get feedback from nearby community members, though the majority of people that stopped by their booth were already library users. At their booth, they had a question board with 4 questions to get a sense of how people were feeling about their community and the San Jose Public Library. From the responses, they found that neighbors want to live in a community that is welcoming, safe and friendly for all. Many participants felt that their community currently isn’t friendly or diverse. They felt the library could help create the community they want by hosting more programs and for a variety of ages.  Staff also asked if people had any technology or connectivity concerns; the responses showed that most of them did not have any concerns.

Staff shared: We want to analyze any feedback we get from our library users and community to try to improve our library and services. Based on the feedback we received from the Farmers Market visitors, we hope to create more programs for a variety of age-groups. Some of the programs that we hope to start soon are Reading to Children and a Makerspace hour that people of any age can come to to learn about different arts and crafts and to create something fun. One person had mentioned wanting more cultural festivals, so we will try to do more cultural and holiday events, when possible. We are actively recruiting for volunteers so we can start more programs. The number of programs that we’ve been hosting has grown immensely since the library’s closure a few years ago and we will continue to grow.

Hillview Branch Library

Exterior of Hillview Branch Library.

Hillview Branch Library had the opportunity to table at Renaissance Academy at Fischer's Back to School Night. As this library branch is located within a block radius of an elementary, middle, and high school in the East Side San Jose area, we received lots of feedback from all age groups on our survey--although, we were focused on speaking to the students and their parents/guardians. Noted through written responses and verbal conversations, our respondents belonged primarily to one or two underserved populations: immigrants and low-income families. It was highlighted frequently that the Hillview Branch serves an ethnically diverse community that has much to offer itself. One respondent wrote, "I want to learn from our community and build our new home. I also want the community to accept and welcome newcomers so they can adjust [to] their lives easily." It was suggested by this respondent (and others) that we should continue to provide programs dedicated to all age groups so that every member of an immigrant family may find themselves to be active members of the library--and thus, active members of their community.

Another important concern for our community members was their safety. Some respondents voiced that they do not feel safe and supported by the library since there have been issues with crime recently (e.g., fighting and graffitiing during the day and night). Because of these issues, it poses a difficulty to predict one's experience at the branch at any time of the day/week. We believe that it may be in the best interest of our patrons to install more security cameras or hire dedicated staff. In the face of this concern, our low-income respondents continue to visit the library for its free resources. Our programs, materials, and devices bridge an otherwise large gap between our low-income and non-low-income populations: the library's hotspots holding a crucial role in this action. We should make a conscientious effort to provide more hotspot devices for our community, so they may feel connected regardless of their financial status.

The largest takeaway from our night came from the students of Renaissance Academy. Many students lack a passion for reading, but they visit the library to engage in other programs/events. Suggested to our table by a vocal student this night, the Hillview Branch should collaborate more often with the nearby schools for reading events/challenges. This exposure to reading would ultimately engage more students in the act of learning and usher in more patrons of the library. We hope to share this information with you to showcase what we've learned from our outreach and provide insight on areas we could increase the quality of our services. We thank Renaissance Academy at Fischer and our community members for their awesome responses and ideas.

Pearl Avenue Branch Library

exterior of Pearl Avenue Branch Library

Pearl Avenue Branch Library staff gathered responses to four questions with the following results:

What kind of community do you want to be a part of?

  1. An active one with clubs of Art, Music, exploring the planets, sky + stars, etc.
  2. Where people take personal responsibility to effect change.
  3. A kind one in which everyone looks out for one another.

How is that different from what you see now?

No responses were given, which is common for this question as it can be difficult to share negative viewpoints (unless of course you're a nextdoor or Twitter troll)

How could the library create the kind of community you want?

  1. Have more opportunities to connect with neighbors.  re: Book clubs, etc.

What volunteer opportunities would you like to see at Pearl Avenue?

  1. Something that works with school schedules (high school)
  2. Job search to get parents back to work.

Library staff, after analyzing their feed back had the following thoughts:

There is a wonderful callout for more community-based programs - possibly even just having an evening get-together for everyone to have a chance to have a simple, quiet time.  We have been doing a lot of children's crafts, but it would be nice to get an adult craft or art program here.

In October or November, we had a clash of opinions about LGBTQ+ books in the children's room.  Just this past week, several of us found "hidden" books with that theme - made difficult to find, hidden behind the rest of the books on that shelf.  We are unsure how long they have been there.

Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch Library

Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch staff went to Washington Elementary School to attend their Career Night event. Several families participated and visited various tables organized by community members, including the Biblioteca Latinoamericana.  As they visited the tables they learned about jobs and careers at various locations, including libraries. We spoke to many children and families looking at brochures and other library information.  Many children chose to create a bookmark craft that we provided.

They used their large poster with the four ASK questions and provided sticky notes to parents and older children that they could use to answer the four ASK questions.

Responses to the question “What type of community do you want to live in?” included “welcoming, pleasant, helpful,” “great, pleasant, surprising,” and “safe.”

Responses to “How could the library help create the kind of community you want?” included “Technology classes for kids,” “Homework kelp classes,” “Technology classes,” “English classes,” and “English courses for adults”.

Biblioteca currently has a homework club that meets on Tuesdays, however, there may be another day of the week that is more convenient for families. They offer one-on-one computer help appointments in Spanish, and there will also be a digital literacy class coming up.  A series of iPad courses for children in late February and early March will be offered.

Village Square Library

Village Square library outside

Village Square Branch staff asked questions to their ‘Diwali Festival’ program participants that included all ages. Librarian Aasia spoke to a diverse group of people comprised of different age groups. She posted the questions on their white board in the community room where the event took place with stick on note pads and pens. She spoke to the participants briefly about the 4 ASK questions and how the library appreciated their valuable feedback.

Participants showed their aspiration for living in a friendly, safe, clean, and greener community where they have common platform to meet each other. People showed interest in having more safer environment, having a neighborhood platform to share their concerns with each other and getting to know each other and learn about cultural diversity. People wanted the library to offer more programs for all age groups, particularly for children, extend the hours, and be respectful to each other.

Staff hope to use this information in planning future programs, and recommendations for possible policy change.
Here are few quotations from the Village Square Community:

  • “It will be nice to have more options for people and kids to mingle and interact.”
  • “Kind and helpful staff”
  • “You are already doing that. You have all the programs that are helpful for kids, teens, and adults. Keep it up!”