Janet Cheung, Branch Manager:
A family of four came into the Asian Branch Library, with their foreign passports in hand. They spoke in their native Cantonese, “We just arrived Oakland and our relatives brought us here to get a library card.” To many immigrants, the Asian Branch Library is their first stop when they arrive in this country; their first step towards understanding the American culture and way of life.
The Asian Branch Library is central to the community here. It used to be on 9th St and Broadway, in a small location; years went by and demand was so high that Oakland finally got a federal grant for a new library. In 1995, we moved to a new location in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown, Pacific Renaissance Plaza.
Did you know that outside of the Oakland Main Library, Asian Branch has the greatest usage in the library system? When you walk into the Asian Branch Library, you see a lot of seniors, children and teens, and they occupy every single inch of usable space in the library. There is a computer lab in the library that offers computer access in Cantonese and Mandarin for the immigrant and senior community. We offer weekly classes in basic computer skills and how to use the Internet. A grandfather proudly showed our library staff pictures of his grandchildren in China, thanking the library for “teaching me how to use the Internet and set up an email account so I can connect with my family”.
With a community composed mostly of immigrants, you will find books in eight different languages at the Asian Branch: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Tagalog, and Laotian. You will also meet a friendly and knowledgeable multilingual library staff ready to serve the needs of our diverse community. We also have large Asian interest and Asian American collections to serve the needs of students and historians alike.
Immigrants who do not speak English or have limited English skills always come to our library to check out ESL materials. They enjoy checking out books and DVDs in their home languages. At the Asian Branch Library, our immigrant patrons need help with filing income taxes, getting food stamps, and simply learning how to travel from Oakland Chinatown to another neighborhood by public transportation. Immigrants are not aware of all things that are available to them, and at the Asian Branch Library, we help them. We help them by closing the digital divide, we help them by offering materials in their native languages, and we help them by serving their needs in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Khmer. You will always see long lines at the service counter. A total of 326,500 library materials were circulated in 2010, and we saw 340,000 patrons come through our door at the Asian Branch Library in 2010!
To many immigrants, senior citizens, teens, children, and families in the Oakland Chinatown community, the Asian Branch Library is a symbol of our community’s cultural awareness. It represents a cultured and civilized place to live. Keep the Asian Branch Library and all Oakland libraries open. Our community and future generations need the Oakland Public Library.
Cong Hoang, Senior Library Assistant:
The Asian Branch Library of the Oakland Public Library, located in the heart of Chinatown, is the place where Asian people of various ethnicities, young and old, most often new immigrants, come for resources such as free computer classes and programs on health and also to check out the volumes of books, periodicals, and audio-visual items in our collection.
The typical day for our library starts with a group of elderly waiting outside the front door in the early morning so anxious for us to open. Often they show up way before the library staff arrives. Some even line up trying to be the first to enter. For years we have this elderly patron nearly always the first at the door. He can’t seem to wait for our door to open soon enough. Once the library is opened, he quickly walks through the gate to avoid anyone cutting in front of him. He then rushes straight up to the reference and information desk. He knows he must be quick because he’s competing with others for one of only two copies of our popular Chinese language newspaper “Singtao Daily.” Once getting their newspaper, patrons begin to disperse to find seats available and settle down. They read books or mingle with their friends or potential new friends. Meanwhile, another group of patrons line up trying to get their hands on one of their favorite television series in Chinese on DVDs.
In the afternoon, once a first young kid arrives at the library with a backpack on his or her back, we know school has ended or will soon end for the kids. The children and teen areas in the library would soon fill up with kids of all ages. Small kids run around pulling books off the shelves to read, and older kids talk among themselves in groups as they work on their homework assignments, while the other ones occupy the computers to play computer games. With the parents reading to their child or children, the older kids doing their homework assignments, and other kids playing on the computers, the library becomes not only a library, but a homework center and recreation center for kids after school. This is what a typical afternoon at the Asian Branch Library is like each day.
Then there’s the busiest: Saturday. Many parents bring their children with them to check out books for their homework assignments or to read for pleasure. Many come to enjoy our bilingual storytime in Chinese and English. Adults come to check out language books and audio-visual materials to learn English. Others come for information on immigration and other social services. On average 1,500 patrons visit the library on Saturday. Every hour we have 200 patrons walk through the gate at the Asian branch. Sometimes the large number of people makes it overwhelming for the room to accommodate everybody. People who are unable to find a seat must endure long standing. Others must fight their way in and out of the aisles to find their books and DVDs. As many as 1,500 library items are checked out on a typical Saturday.
Every day we offer library services to our patrons they feel that are very special to them. All the resources that we have available are well used by our patrons. Our patrons often express how grateful they are to have such a place they can go to for the resources that they need. They wish the library could expand rather than to shrink or close altogether, especially during this tough economic time. The Asian Branch Library is basically the symbol of pride and joy of the Asian community. To close it amounts to taking away that pride and joy of this community that it truly deserves.