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.
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 www.fopl.org.