Community Engagement: What We’ve Learned From Listening to our Neighbors and Communities (Winter 2022)

a neighbor taking time to give their feedback on a community survey.

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 our 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.

3 SJPL Library Workers Share

Three SJPL library workers share what they have been learning from the communities they are serving.

Vineland Branch | Hillview Branch | King Library

Exterior of the Vineland Branch Library.

Vineland Branch Library

Vineland library staff visited the Princeton Plaza Farmers Market one Wednesday morning in an effort to get feedback from nearby community members, though the majority of people that stopped by our booth were already library users.

Vineland Librarian Stephanie stands at a tabling tent outside with an answer and ask board and a spinning prize wheel.
Librarian Stephanie talked to visitors at the Princeton Plaza Farmers Market.

At our booth, we had a question board with 4 questions to get a sense of how they were feeling about their community and the San Jose Public Library. From the responses we found that our neighbors want to live in a community that is welcoming, inclusive and where they can feel connected to their neighbors. Many participants felt divided and either not connected to or welcomed by their neighbors. They felt the library could help create the community they want by hosting more programs that are social-based, inclusive and that fit their schedules. We also asked what they like about the library to get a sense of what services they might already be using. The answers varied from mentioning the library’s “great collection,” “awesome staff,” and feeling safe there to services they enjoy, like ABC Mouse, Link+, storytime, and checking out devices.

poster board with the 4 ask questions and sticky notes with answers on them.
Community members attending the outdoor market shared their thoughts on what is important to them.

With the feedback from our neighbors, we hope to create more social-based programs where library users can get to know their neighbors and share their thoughts and ideas in a welcoming and inclusive environment; we’ll also look into offering programs at different times and days of the week in order to have programs at times more convenient for many users.

Exterior of Hillview Branch Library.
Librarian Karen heard from attendees of the Coffee with the Principle event at Meyer Elementary School.

Hillview Branch Library

On October 26 2022, librarian Karen attended the Coffee with the Principal Outreach at Meyer Elementary School. Due to the nature of the outreach, the targeted audience were children and parents of the local community. The majority of the group were Spanish-only speakers, with some bilingual in English and Spanish, and a few English speakers. The group of parents were not a huge group, and some of them included couples (both parents of the child) so we were able to have an oral discussion.

To sum, the parents had one main thing in common - they prioritized their children/family. They all wanted a community where their kids were safe and had access to resources and a good education. This kind of response was not surprising as this was a school event for parents. I am sure more parents of the community must feel the same way, but are not always able to attend these kinds of events because of work or other duties.

Many of the parents learned about the programs and resources their library has to offer them. Many of them had no idea of what the library provided, assuming it was just a place to acquire books. One mom in particular expressed her safety concern, as Hillview had just had a gun-related incident earlier in the year. Thankfully, after more discussion and letting her know about the steps we took to make the library a safe place, she felt more at ease and empowered to use her local library.

Overall, all of the parents gained knowledge about the library and were very excited to use the resources and programs we had to offer them.

Exterior of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library.
Literacy Program Specialist Julianna went to an event at the Blanca Alvarado Community Resource Center in October to learn more from the community.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library

From Julianna Black at King Library:

I talked to so many different people who live in the immediate area around the Blanca Alvarado Center, as well as many different family members who tagged along for the event. It was great to see so many different types of people at a single event!

a question and answer board with answers on stick notes.
Julianna uses engagement questions translated into multiple languages in order to reach everyone living in our neighboring communities.

I focus my engagement on talking to folks who might have a little bit of trouble navigating our city services – in this case, I engaged with a lot of community members who speak English as a second language. To gather feedback, I used poster boards with a question posed on two boards.

another question and answer board with answers on stick notes.
Julianna's engagement questions received a lot of response because of her efforts to reach out in multiple languages.

Because of the language barrier, I made sure to include both Spanish and Vietnamese translations of the questions I posed to community members. Even so, there was a lot of in-person translation from gracious family members and another Spanish-speaking colleague of mine who works at the Hillview Branch Library.

Many of the respondents I talked to want to live in a community that is more engaged with each other. A lot of folks talked about feeling disconnected from their neighbors, and thought the library could provide more fun cultural wellness programs like tai-chi class, folklórico performances, and resource fairs! One thing that really stood out to me was the amount of people who were so excited to hear about our eResources like Hoopla, Libby, and!