Community Engagement: What We’ve Learned From Listening to our Communities (Summer 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.

7 SJPL Library Branches Share

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

Bascom Branch | Calabazas Branch | East San José Carnegi Branch | Edenvale Library | Rosegarden Branch | Santa Teresa Branch | Seven Trees Branch

Bascom Branch Library

Bascom Branch Library staff visited Marijane Hamann Park this summer for a Viva Parks celebration. Viva Parks is a series of recreational events hosted by the San Jose City Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services Department that encourage families to visit city parks and engage with their community. The event featured a series of games and activities, a food truck, and a movie night for the whole family.

Because this was an event for families, we focused on book giveaways for the kids as a starting point for conversation. The kids were especially interested in our 4 ASK Question board and excitedly coordinated responses with their parents/guardians.

All in all, the responses, both on the board and through conversations, centered around wanting a safe, walkable, and ‘good’ neighborhood. Additionally, while a lot of the adults were appreciative of library programing for children, a few adults also expressed an interest in recreational programming for adults.

Another topic that was brought up was creating inclusive spaces for community members, namely by including a larger selection of library materials in languages other than English and the inclusion of more cultural events and programming.

This event provided some invaluable insight into the needs of our community. It also helped us promote our library to members of the community who were unaware of our presence in the neighborhood. Parents were appreciative of our calendar of events handout and stated that they would try to make it to the family events listed on our flyer. Overall, Viva Parks was an incredibly fun and enlightening experience!


Calabazas Branch Library

Staff from the Calabazas Branch Library engaged with their surrounding community and learned the following things"

Residents want to live in a community that is hard-working and where "Love" is only good.  They enjoy visiting this library because of the staff. "They are super nice and friendly."  They are "exceptionally friendly and kind. We appreciate their assistance."

One customer commented, "I like the event Volunteer away your fines. [it] Rocks!"

Others said the following:

"I loved the fact that library staff organize community events and say, "Keep doing more!"

"I like that even with a lot of change, I still can find interesting books here.

"I could borrow any kinds of books I want. Library is a quiet place."

"I would love to be involved in activities for children or adults with disabilities."

East San José Carnegie Branch Library

East San Jose Carnegie Branch makes recurring visits to Olinder Elementary School during the afternoon when parents are picking up their children from school. On several of those visits, we have brought printed surveys that we have invited families to fill out.

The community members who have responded have indicated they value safety and cleanliness in their neighborhood, and desire a community where people know and respect each other, even if they are from different backgrounds and speak different languages. People express appreciation for the library and like to see the free art and science programs offered for kids at the library.

Edenvale Branch Library

Calero High School invited nearby SJPL branches to attend their Multicultural Fair in April. Me and my colleague attended this event, it was the first time they ever held a Multicultural Fair which was a success! Since this is a high school we targeted the teen population with programs at our library (Edenvale Branch) and nearby Santa Teresa Branch that were geared towards young adults. This was a family event and we met several families, young children, and teens.

To gather information we used a foam board with three of the 4 ASK questions and prompted people to answer one of the questions with a sticky note and keep the SJPL pen. Most people’s response was that they loved the library and how special it was to them. They also mentioned how they want to be part of a safe community and how the library does its part in making them feel safe and included. They mentioned wanting more programs at the library specifically animals and crafts which are everyone’s favorite. Additionally, we asked if they knew about our SJ Access program and we were pleased to know the majority of people were familiar with it.

This was a great outreach event and offered many different resources for the families attending. I especially appreciate that they had us set up in front of their school library and offered us a tour of it. I think it was an overall success for us and for the Calero High School event planners.

Rose Garden Branch Library

Family Reading Night at Meritt Trace Elementary School featured the Rose Garden Branch Library as one of their tables. It was held on Thursday, May 4 with the appropriate theme: “May the 4th Be with You.” Reading Night was a special event where children and their families are invited to read and enjoy refreshments and entertainment provided by the school and other local organizations.

I attended with boxes of books, prizes, and the much-appreciated prize wheel in tow. Due to the rain, the event moved into the school’s multi-purpose room, but that didn’t stop the excitement! In the blink of an eye, the Rose Garden Branch Library table accumulated quite the line. Children were excited for their chance to win a pen, pencil, book, or sticker. In addition, grownups had the opportunity to earn an additional book for their child by sharing their thoughts with us—either through our paper Community Engagement Surveys or by QR code/online at a later time. In the end, I engaged with almost 100 individuals!

A few days after the conclusion of the event, we had collected 11 total responses. Most responses said that their ideal community is kind, friendly, safe, and inclusive. Respondents expressed that the current community isn’t too different from the ideal, but some expressed wanting to be more aware of San Jose Library and City services and programs, an emphasis on kindness, and an expansion of programming topics at the Library. There was also a request for more programs for Spanish speakers.

Overall, this outreach event was a lot of fun. It was great meeting and learning more about the families at our local school, hearing their opinions, and informing them about what the Library has to offer!

Santa Teresa Branch Library

At the conclusion of the 2022-2023 school year, Santa Teresa Branch Library staff attended the Oak Grove High School Wellness Fair and the Santa Teresa High School Culture Fair. They were celebratory events spotlighting students’ achievements and interests and featured performances by teens. Community organizations, including the San Jose Public Library, were invited to share teen-related services and opportunities. There were also games, food, and raffles.

We brought information about SJ Access: SJPL’s free internet and tech devices, teen volunteer opportunities and summer programming. We had an interactive Community Engagement board where we posted four questions for visitors to respond. And we had a variety of SJPL stickers, pencils, and pens to give away.

We spoke with students, parents, and educators. We heard through our conversations and Community Engagement board responses that people want to be part of a community that is friendly, safe, and fosters clear, open and honest communication. They said the library could help create their ideal community by being welcoming to everyone, helping people learn to read and look for books and to bring more attention to library resources. There was interest in volunteer opportunities and library programs for all ages. People shared a variety of things they like about the library including having a large assortment of books, reading a new book, reading in the quiet, being able to relax, interacting with friendly staff members and spending an enjoyable time without having to spend money.

Over the next few weeks, we saw teens we met at the events inside the Santa Teresa Branch Library, who approached us to say, “Hello.” Attending community events is a wonderful way to meet new people, have a fun time celebrating the interests and achievements of our community and learn how to best meet the needs of our community.

Seven Trees Branch Library

Seven Trees staff joined the Community Center for their Culture Night Market to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which overlapped with our Star Wars program, Revenge of the Fifth. To help out at the outreach, one of the volunteer Stormtroopers came down to connect to the community and promote the library, which generated extra excitement. They got the 4 ASK question board started by adding a comment saying they want to be part of a community that is “one without Ewoks or little green people.” In addition to the board, staff gave out books and other prizes.

From the information gathered, we learned that the community wants to be part of an environment that is safe, welcoming, family-friendly, and celebrates everyone. When asked what they enjoyed about the library, some responded that they enjoyed the friendly staff, the organization, and reconnecting with their children at programs. In terms of creating their ideal library, participants noted that they wanted more STEAM programs, fun activities, and projects. Although most of the attendees were library users, we reached out to people unfamiliar with our branch who were excited to learn about the library.

Given these points, we learned about the community on a larger scale, which has assisted us in enhancing the library’s programs and services.