Pleasanton is currently in the midst of a citywide employee engagement effort as staff continue to work on developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Plan, which was one of the 2019-20 City Council work plan priorities.
And while some might think of the Pleasanton Public Library as only a place to rent books, the reality is that it is an amenity that serves the community on a much larger scale.
"Our library plays a crucial role in ensuring equitable access to diverse and inclusive resources that represent all the individuals we serve," library and recreation director Heidi Murphy told the council during a presentation March 7.
"Our programs, services and collections weave together in an effort to make everyone feel welcomed and included regardless of their background, identity or life experience," she added.
Murphy, along with several other Pleasanton Library staff, highlighted several ways that her division has incorporated diversity, equity and inclusion into program planning and the library's broader work plan.
Pleasanton librarian Chris Spitzel recalled recent moments where he saw the positive impacts from just bringing in more culturally diverse books.
"One of my colleagues watched a young patron find a book on our new shelf last month, and excitedly say to her, 'Mom, look at her dress, we have dresses like that,'" Spitzel told the council. "I had an interaction recently that concluded with a young girl telling me I love reading about Ms. Marvel because she's Muslim like me. So 'Crown of Flames' and 'Marvel Rising: Heroes of the Roundtable' were mirrors for these children and we were delighted that they were there on the shelf for them to find."
Staff also included information like how the library is working to get a Hindi book collection and how through council approval, they eliminated late fees so that they could reduce any barriers in accessing materials.
"Our objective is to make sure that everyone in our community is able to discover and utilize informative resources to enrich their lives, and to find and enjoy materials that offer reflections of themselves and perspectives into others' experiences," Spitzel said.
Apart from the late fees and push for more books in different languages and formats -- such as accessibility -- another main highlight in the presentation was all of the different programs the library offers.
"We use a number of tools, both quantitative and qualitative, to determine whether programs are the right fit for our library," said Cherie Buenaflor, library and recreation coordinator. "So for quantitative data, we use things like programs, surveys and performance measures, such as attendance at previous programs to inform that need. For example, it was from our 2022 surveys that we saw the immense interest in our storytime programs, where over 93% of attendees said they were strongly satisfied with our program."
One program in particular that Buenaflor pointed out that focused a lot on equity and inclusion was the Paws to Read, a 20-year-old program that allows elementary school students in first through fifth grades to read in one-on-one sessions with dogs from Valley Humane Society's certified canine comfort teams.
"In this anecdote, a young reader came in and expressed hesitation to read because they had dyslexia. Well, it just so happened that the Paws to Read volunteer also had dyslexia," Buenaflor said. "She explained to the young reader that while reading also didn't come easy to hurt, she learned how to read forwards and backwards and kept trying and kept trying and it became her superpower. The volunteer said she could see the young reader's defenses coming down and this reader ended the session excited to come back and read to the volunteer again."
Other programs that she touched on were the bilingual storytimes as well as sensory storytimes which take place in quiet intimate settings and offer extra assistance to young children with sensory sensitivities.
However, Buenaflor also included some suggestions for improvement that they received through surveys such as more programs for younger and older crowds, additional volunteer opportunities for teenagers and more days and times for programming.
Yu Tao, library manager, also touched on more of the logistic side of things such as library usage, demographic information and how these two played into the intentional selection of diverse materials and programming.
"In 2010, the population was primarily composed of the white population at 79% white with some Asian and Hispanic people, very little African Americans and no Native Americans," Tao said. "We observed a drastic reduction in the white population, while the Asian population surged from 12% to 37%, reflecting a significant change in the community's makeup.
"Moreover, the Hispanic African American and Native American populations have all increased over the last 10 years," she added.
Tao said that these demographic changes highlight the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in the library as a top priority as they continue to gain a better understanding of Pleasanton's ever changing demographic composition.
"Pleasanton is very much different than it was 20 years ago and you know, that's good," Councilmember Jeff Nibert said. "Keeping up with that change and making sure that all of our residents are served is excellent. That's what we always strive for."
While the presentation was not an action item, several council members did weigh in on asking questions such as Councilmember Valerie Arkin's question on the library's outreach efforts to inform more residents about their services.
Murphy said that as the city works on developing its five-year strategic planning framework that would replace the longstanding two-year process for identifying and prioritizing public projects, she hopes it would help with their outreach efforts.
"We had a lot of trouble reaching people who weren't already users of our services and so we are really excited about the city-wide strategic planning process and the opportunity that we have to engage with the broader community," she said. "We're hopeful that we're going to be getting some additional feedback just through the general citywide survey that we can then plug into an updated library and recreation strategic plan as well."
Murphy also responded to Nibert's question on learning tools for English as a second language students.
"Our literacy program has expanded this year. We got a second state library grant ... $110,000, from the state library for literacy services that also has provided us with a new app," she said. "So there is an app that people can download, and start to learn with a live person on the other end, which is really interesting."
She added that the main reason the city got the app was because they had a 50-person waiting list of those seeking language tutoring services.
"We have more people needing the service than we have tutors to provide the service," she said. "We would love more volunteers so we could serve everybody."
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