Community Relations Blog

Get to Know Your Grants: Community Kiosk

By Emily Weak, Senior Librarian at the Main Library

In any community, the library is one of the most trusted government agencies. We are a safe haven for folks who need it. And life is hard for a lot of folks in Oakland right now.  Homelessness increased 25% between 2015 and 2017. Our patrons are increasingly vulnerable, due to demographic factors like immigration status or gender identity. Sometimes the air itself is unfit to breathe.

Librarian Emily Weak at the Community Kiosk

Library staff are natural helpers. We love to find just the right book, or to connect patrons to the information they’ve been looking for - everything from finding lyrics to that song they’ve been humming to the email for their new city council person to exactly the right job listing. But sometimes patrons need more help than we can provide. In those cases, it is great to be able to provide a direct referral to an expert.

In December of 2016, a colleague and I applied for and received a Friends of the OPL mini-grant to expand our Veterans Center, a small corner of the Main Library lobby, into the Community Kiosk. We wanted to be able to invite local organizations to provide direct service to patrons in need. With a $1,500 grant from the Friends, we enhanced this space – making it more visible and more useful – with a second table, a storage cabinet, a video display, and a new laptop.

Prior to the grant, this area was staffed with an employee or volunteer who provided help for veterans for only 10 hours a week.  And while we still provide at least 10 hours/week of service to veterans, we now also host partners from local social services agencies almost every day, offering an additional 12-18 hours/week of help on a wide variety of areas.  For example:

  • Once a month, Veronica from the Alameda County Community Food Bank signs people up for CalFresh (EBT aka food stamps)
  • On a weekly basis, the East Bay Community Recovery Project and Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services both provide drop-in hours for folks looking for help with substance abuse and mental illness
  • On Tuesdays, the Employment Development Department provides help with job search, resumes and career development. They have a huge list of job fairs and open recruitments!
  • Every other Sunday, Eddie and his colleagues from the Oakland Tenant’s Union help people stay in their apartments (and avoid homelessness).
  • On Second Sundays, the first two hours of the day are staffed by Naomi, who is a certified financial planner, and the last two hours belong to Open Oakland, who does a walk-thru of a tool that patrons can use to clear their criminal records

 We also use the space for one-off events, such as free flu vaccinations (provided by Alameda Health Care for the Homeless) or open recruitment for Census workers ($17.25/hour!)

The Community Kiosk provides life-changing interventions in a place that patrons already know and trust: the public library. It allows staff to form closer relationships with organizations providing vital services in Oakland, so that even when services are not in the library, we can provide confident referrals and high-quality information. It helps Oaklanders stay safe, feel better, and maybe even thrive.


 The Friends of the Oakland Public Library offers annual mini-grants of up to $2,000 each to fund the implementation of a new service or program proposed by library staff. The Friends of the Oakland Public Library is an independent nonprofit that has been supporting the library since 1950. You can learn more about their work at

Get to Know Your Grants: Seed Lending Library

From the desk of Kate Hug, Branch Manager, Melrose Branch Library (4805 Foothill Blvd)...

Two young children planting seeds

Earlier this year, I applied for a Friends of the Oakland Public Library mini-grant, asking for $950 to establish a Seed Lending Library and to improve the backyard garden here at Melrose Branch.  These projects are part of a longer-term goal:  to increase community engagement through food, gardening, sharing of recipes, and seed lending.

Getting the garden up and running brought together staff, and along the way we found amazing adult community partners on whom we could rely.  The dirt was sourced and ordered by a new patron, who saw us unloading the metal troughs and “wanted to get involved.”  He brought along friends to help shovel dirt into buckets, cart them into the garden, and repeat.  These gentlemen have taken it upon themselves to be responsible for watering.

The seed lending library is located upstairs.  We found drawers that fit the aesthetic of the library and our Ready, Set, Connect intern learned all the ins and outs of Microsoft Publisher as we worked with him to design our “Seed Lending” and “Seed Saving” information brochures in both Spanish and English.

Photo  of the seed lending library

We had our Container Garden Party / Seed Lending Kick-Off party on June 23, and approximately 75 people attended (including 30 adults), despite the extremely hot weather.  Patrons went upstairs to check out the Seed Lending, ate ice cream in the garden, painted terra cotta pots donated by Ace Hardware, and planted seeds.

 We will be partnering with Scientific Adventures to continue to grow and expand our garden this fall.  They will be teaching sustainable STEM programs and by winter will have built a butterfly enclosure in the garden.

 The Melrose Garden was already beautiful and a welcome place of quiet respite for the East Oakland Community.  Moving forward, we have plans of partnership as well as community driven ideas to plant medicinal plants for teas and salves this winter. Thank you so much for making this possible!

FOOTNOTE:  The Friends of the Oakland Public Library offers annual mini-grants of up to $1,500 each to fund the implementation of a new service or program proposed by library staff. The Friends of the Oakland Public Library is an independent nonprofit that has been supporting the library since 1950. You can learn more about their work at


Mam Cultural Festival Celebrates Growing Mayan Presence in Bay Area

 Musical ensemble Maco y su marimba el quetzal play the marimba at the Mam Cultural Festival

To view pictures of the Mam Cultural Festival, click here. All photos courtesy of volunteer photographer Khai Pham.

As a high-schooler, Henry Sales frequented the César E. Chávez Branch Library in Fruitvale; it was a perfect place to finish school work and hang out until it was time to head home. However, he found it difficult to communicate with his fellow library goers - many of whom were fluent Spanish speakers.

Henry’s native language is Mam, the second-most popular language of the 21 Mayan languages currently spoken in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. For the last 15 years, thousands of indigenous Mayan immigrants have settled in Oakland and the East Bay, including Henry.

“I used to ask the staff and other patrons a lot of questions, but I wasn’t fluent in Spanish. And, I didn’t speak English very well at all back then. So naturally we had a lot of trouble communicating,” says Henry, now 25 and a library aide at the Chávez Branch. “I assumed if this was happening to me, then a lot of other Mam might be experiencing the same thing, and not just at the library.”

So, Henry decided to get involved. Upon graduation, he volunteered as a tutor at the Chávez Branch before joining Oakland Public Library’s Ready, Set, Connect! - a professional development program designed to help Oakland youth discover the professional skills necessary for technology focused careers. Eventually, he became a library aide at the Chávez Branch, where he immediately became the go-to person to help communicate with Mam patrons. Non-profit organizations and government agencies asked Henry to be a language consultant to cater to the needs of Mam clients.

Henry Sales (left) speaks with a patron during the festival.

Photo: Henry Sales (left) speaks with a patron.

It became obvious to Henry that the Mam community was growing. He was being asked more and more questions about his heritage - the language, the dress, the history. In addition, he encountered Mam families directly affected by changing immigration laws, limited access to healthcare and education, and an expensive housing market.

“Instead of blaming someone, I thought, maybe I can help by letting people know that we are [in the Bay Area]. We’re active, proud members of these communities, and we have a unique culture that we want to celebrate,said Sales. “So, that’s where the idea came from.”

Sales organized the Mam Cultural Exchange - a group of Mam community members that help out fellow Mam and share the Mam culture to the wider public. And, with the help of two grants - Cal Humanities’ Library Innovation Lab and the Akonadi Foundation’s Beloved Community Fund - he organized the Mam Cultural Festival at the Chávez Branch.

So on Saturday, September 15, nearly 300 attendees joined Henry in a celebration of the Mam culture.

Two dancers perform in front of the Marimba.
Photo: Two dancers in traditional Mam dress dance in front of the marimba.

Traditional Mayan music resounded throughout the afternoon as three musicians played the Marimba - an instrument resembling a large xylophone - with men and women displaying traditional dance in the center of the courtyard.

Mam women served hungry patrons chuchitos with corn and beans, a typical Mam meal, and displayed traditional weaving techniques while making blankets and clothes. In one corner, patrons were invited to learn basic phrases and words in the Mam language.

All in all, Henry was grateful for the opportunity to display his culture to people who might not have even heard of the Mam.

“It was an amazing experience. For me, it was a success,” says Henry. “To see the public enjoying watching our traditional performances, eating our food, enjoying our company - it was more than I could ask for. I’m excited to do it again - and not only in Oakland.”

Henry hopes for the opportunity to showcase his culture to other areas where a Mam community exists.

“Since we are a minor group that keeps growing every year, we want people to know we are human beings just like everyone. Many families have been separated and this is a good way to show that we are not a threat, we are not criminals, we are not the enemy,” says Henry. “We still exist. We’re not extinct, like many people believe the Mayans are. We are a part of this century, this country and this world.”

A woman showcases the traditional weaving process.

Photo: A woman in traditional dress displays a Mam weaving technique.

What is Community Relations?

I have a confession to make.  I've put off writing this first post for weeks because I haven't been able to come up with a good title for this blog.  What is Community Relations?  Well, I suppose it is an official sounding way to describe broadly what I do - which is to work, in any way imaginable, on connecting the library and the community we serve.  What it isn't, though, is a fun and sassy name for a blog that the community might actually want to read.  

This is going to be a great space where I can share all the different ways that we are working together.  I have videos and photos to show you, and an abundance of stories to tell.  

I'm going to give us some time to get to know this blog and then we're going to come up with a name for it, you and I.  If something brilliant comes to you, keep it in mind and when I'm ready, I'll let you know.  I'm thinking about a blog-naming contest in the next couple of weeks and I don't want you to give away your best ideas too soon.

Fentons Creamery Flyer


In the meantime, go eat some ice cream (supporting the Friends of the Oakland Public Library), and check back here soon! 















Posted by Sharon McKellar, Community Relations Librarian