Elmhurst Branch Library, 1427 88th Ave.
Sharon McKellar, Branch Manager:
Yesterday over 100 people came out to celebrate the Elmhurst Library’s
Grand Re-Opening. We’ve been open for a little over 6 months since
being closed for remodel, but we were finally ready to really
celebrate. A new service desk, new shelving, a new reading area with
lounge chairs, and a bank of computers are just the start of the
changes that Elmhurst has seen recently. But one thing that has not
changed is that the Elmhurst Library is a happy haven. Every day at
Elmhurst I think of the Cheers theme song: the place where everyone
knows your name, and I think about how lucky I am to work in a library
that has that same family feel. There is no place I’d rather spend my
The Elmhurst Branch is on 88th Ave. just off of International Blvd.
There is not a lot going on in the neighborhood. Some beauty shops
and dollar stores. The East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club is across the
street in one direction, and the Food King, a pretty sad grocery
store, is across the street in the other. Very few would argue that
this neighborhood is a safe and healthy place. When you read about
crime and violence in Oakland, you are often reading about the area
within a five block radius of the library. But when you walk into
the library, you leave that all behind in an instant. It is an oasis.
This is a community that needs and utilizes its library. I feel so
proud of the work we do because I get so much positive feedback from
our patrons, day in and day out. Elmhurst sits slightly back from the
main drag of International Blvd. You might walk right past if if you
didn’t know what you were looking for. This means that it is full of
people who DO not what they are looking for.
They are looking for a place to get help on the computer filling out
job applications. Did you know that even McDonald’s now requires an
application to be filled out online? Think about how challenging that
might be for the person who desperately needs work to support a
family, but does not have computer literacy skills and certainly does
not have a computer at home. For those of us reading this on
facebook, it is hard to imagine. But this is a huge piece of the
Oakland population. We also served almost 250 people who needed to
fill out Section 8 (Low Income) Housing Applications online during 1
week earlier this year.
They are looking for a place to print out forms – tax forms, court
forms, housing forms. Just the other day a gentleman came in
desperate for a form he needed printed out for his court appearance.
He was told by the Supreme Court that he must print this form out from
the Internet. He had no idea how to even begin. So he came to us.
He said to us, “What are people who are computer illiterate supposed
to do? What if we couldn’t come to the library and ask you to do this
for us?” This gentleman had no idea that there was a threat of
closure to our library. These questions came unprompted.
They are looking for a place to get books for their children in
Spanish and English. Most families in our community do not have
access to reading materials at home.
They are looking for legal help. Every month our Free Lawyer in the
Library program is packed with people.
They are adults looking for a quiet, peaceful place to work, relax,
read, and interact with their neighbors.
They are teens looking for a place to hang out with their friends, use
their laptops, and find an endless supply of books, movies, and
They are children looking for a safe, warm, friendly place to spend
their time without fear.
The list could go on and on and on.
The Elmhurst Library is a library where the mail woman knows your name
and makes sure to say hello to everyone when she comes in each day.
It’s a library where the security guard comes in early, on his own
time, to help clean up the backyard before an event. It’s a library
where the next door neighbors will wait to turn their music up because
they know that the library is also having a party. And it’s a library
where the community will come out in droves to plant flowers and
vegetables and paint chairs to make the outdoor space usable and
beautiful. One person who helped out that day pointed out that it was
like a Benetton ad, with people from so many different backgrounds and
of such a variety of ages working together. For our community.
Just yesterday one of our regulars, an eight year old girl who lives
right next door, was hanging out, as she often does, at the service
desk talking to me and our Library Assistant. She was passing us
notes, drawing us pictures, and helping us put stickers on magazines.
The Library Assistant, Carlon, who has to be one of the most beloved
people in the Oakland Public Library System, asked her, “Do you know
how lucky you are to live right next door to a library?” Her answer
was a resounding, “YES!!!”
Ana-Elba Pavon, Children’s Librarian:
Dear Councilperson Reid:
I am writing to show my support for the Oakland Public Library. As the new Children’s Librarian at the Elmhurst Library and new employee of the City of Oakland, I have been impressed and touched by the Oakland Library staff and library users. Everyone is so warm and friendly. Though I have worked in numerous public library systems in the past, I have never experienced such an overwhelming feeling of caring from so many on staff. Everyone on the Oakland Public Library staff genuinely cares about their clientele.
One thing that has been disappointing is the digital divide this community experiences. So many do not have access to computers other than at the library and have very little computer skills. Everyday, people try to find jobs by logging onto Caljobs.org, search for open positions, and submit job applications and resumes. For some, this is the only place to do their own personal business as the e-mail and the Internet become the only way to do business. One small business owner who comes in regularly owns his own computer but says he comes to the library because “you can help me.” For others, the DMV or the courts may require someone to obtain documents through the Internet before their transaction goes any further.
As a Spanish-speaker, my skills are very much used as many who come to my branch and Cesar Chavez, where I’ve also worked, come to get free access to books, the Internet, and computers. Of course, these services are also used by the mainstream public. At both Elmhurst and Chavez I witnessed the demand and success of the bilingual Lawyers in the Library program where people come prior to the program’s start-time to sign-up to see an attorney that can help them with their legal issues for free.
The children are also of concern to the community as more services for them are being cut. Every week, children from Ile Omode School walk to our library for a weekly storytime. Children also come every Friday to do crafts with MOCHA, the Museum of Children’s Art. The Summer Reading Club stresses the importance to read during the summer and rewards children’s efforts through the generous donations of our community and business partners. Most importantly, children recognize that the library is a safe and fun place where the staff genuinely cares about them.
It is essential to keep all our libraries open as most of our clientele goes to the library within walking distance of their home. When we have to refer library users to other nearby libraries, it is not unusual to hear them reply “I’m not going over there” as we are their gateway to the public library system. Please do not shut that gateway and leave these library users without library services.