You no longer need to shush in the Gilroy Public Library. Facing the movement to doing everything online, the 53,500 square foot downtown building has become a community hub, with dozens of computers, classes, robots, yes, robots, children’s activities that include reading to dogs, cats and rabbits and classes to build computers.
Community Librarian Lani Yoshimura gave us a look behind the scenes.
Q: How have the reading habits of kids changed?
A: Kids do absolutely still read. Kids aren’t watching as much television, but they are constantly on their phones or devices. Their hand-eye coordination is entirely different than adults and their brains seem to function in concert with their hands and their devices. Adults tend to do one thing at a time but kids are often doing ten things at a time. I’ve had some kids ask me what time it is and I point to the clock on the wall and they have no idea how to read it. They need it digitally.
For kids to be able to interact with their phones or computers, they need to know how to read. A lot of kids come here for the computer access because they don’t have computers at home. We still see that as one of our main functions for the community is that we have computers available.
When we first got computers and internet access at the old library, we used to have a man from the Dominican Republic come in who was usually depressed. One day asked him how he was doing and he expressed the wish to see a newspaper from his home country. We went online, dig a little digging and found a newspaper from his hometown. He was so happy and he would come in almost every day to get online.
Q: What is the most important community service that the library provides?
A: For us just being here as a hub for all kinds of activities is important. The building is a part of it but people now people can electronically get access to our information online.
We have something called Brainfuse, which allows children to get a live tutor online which is available in English and Spanish. It allows kids to ask for help with homework, they can upload their papers to get feedback on them and the fact that it’s a live tutor is fantastic. They don’t tell you the answers, but they help you understand the concepts.
I was at a meeting speaking about Brainfuse and one of the agency people a few weeks later told me that their daughter got help from one of the tutors with a very complicated math problem. The next day they had a pop quiz and she ended up getting a perfect score.
Q: What are some of the other new online resources at the library?
We buy and link to a number of different products like Ancestry.com. We have a lot of e-books, technical books and textbooks available online. Technology allows us to carry a huge amount of material that we would not have enough room.
There are so many things that are always available online. In the middle of the night, you have the urge to see a particular meeting you can go to our catalog and reserve it. Even if it’s at another location, it will be sent here and you’ll usually be notified by email when it arrives.
Q: What does the library do with donations from the public?
A: We have become a place where people come in to donate their old magazines as long as they don’t include their mail-order catalogs. We have shelves that they can place their donations on the first floor and which are free for the public to take. People also still bring in videotapes and those are usually taken very quickly.
Q: What does the library do to help Gilroy’s Spanish-speaking population?
A: A lot of our staff are bilingual and I think we have the highest of Spanish speaking staff in the district. We also have the largest collection of material in Spanish like books, audio books and tons of movies and music.
We also offer English as Second Language classes and products here. Each class meets twice a week and goes for a couple of months. We also have a conversation club where people can practice their English. One of our staff members goes through numerous real-life scenarios, like writing a check and ordering food from a restaurant.
We also have a literacy program where we teach adults who never learned to read and write or for those who have very limited skills. It’s a volunteer-run program where we train a tutor who is matched with a learner. We also run classes in English and Spanish on how to use computers.
Q: How does the library work with schools?
A: We like to work with the STEM programs at local schools. We have two staff members who went to Carnegie Mellon to get trained in robotics so they can use our robots, Dot and Dash, which gives kids the opportunity to learn how to code. They are very simple things, but it teaches the kids to do the basics.
We also work with the South Valley Community Media Access Partnership who is working with kids to learn about video and audio production. The district also offers coding classes offered in each location. We also have the Tech Tool Bar which has a robotic arm that uses digital technology to that will take a photo and the robotic arm will draw a picture of you.
Q: Can you tell me about some of the programs offered by the library?
A: We have several children’s programs, one which is called Rhythm Rattle and Rock which uses movement to help young children read and write. Many people don’t know that movement is very important in helping children learn how to read. We tell people that even before your child is even born, come to the library and get some music because your child hears it in the womb.
We also have Baby Lap Sit, where the parent comes with their toddler and they sit on their parent’s lap while they do various exercises. We also have a bilingual story time, preschool story time and Reading Buddies, where kids read to specially trained pets. We’ve been a part of this program for several years, and it is terrific.
For older kids, we have several other programs like our craft program which often draws 80 to 100 people.
Q: How long have you been with the Santa Clara County Library District?
A: I’ve been working in Gilroy since 1975, so I’ve been around for a long time.
I consider myself someone who works with communities, not with books. That’s what has made my job so interesting, communities change and that’s exactly what a library allows.
I thought we were going to have a very small building at first, but by working with the community and with the vision of some of the people, I worked with we just lucked out.
Online we also offer Treehouse, which teaches a variety of technical subjects like how to build an app. I know of one person who used Treehouse to learn how to program an app which has made enough money to pay for some of his house payments. You can also earn credit for skill certifications or licenses on Treehouse.
We offer a lot of job training opportunities here like classes on how to write a resume, how to interview and our technical offerings offer opportunities to learn new skills.