San Jose’s libraries are about to receive major upgrades, with the state pouring millions into infrastructure projects.
The $439 million Building Forward Library Improvement Grant program, billed as California’s biggest investment in public library infrastructure yet, means San Jose libraries receive more than $8 million in the first cycle funding, library officials said.
The program, announced last week, kicks off necessary infrastructure projects including roof replacement, air conditioning and heating systems and security upgrades to be completed over the next four years. The work will be done at nine libraries in the San Jose Public Library system, which has 25 branches.
Libraries are a direct link to underserved communities, said council member Maya Esparza, whose District 7 area encompasses the Seven Trees branch library. The branch is expected to receive $1.4 million, and only the Biblioteca Latinoamericana branch library in District 3 receives more, getting $3.6 million in public funds.
“Seven Trees (Library) is one of the five most used libraries in the (San Jose) system,” Esparza told San Jose Spotlight. “Extended families living in an apartment or in a house, they don’t have parks in their backyards. Libraries are the living rooms for them so children can do their homework, so they can come and access programs, services and connect.
Funds for this branch will replace outdated air conditioning systems and old roofs, according to a press release.
The grant is also establishing a statewide online tutoring service, which offers multilingual homework help 24/7 on state library websites. The tutoring program is available to learners of all ages and provides subject assistance from K-12, as well as resources and citizenship lessons for adult learners. From October 2, 16 of the 25 municipal libraries plan to be open on Sundays.
Local libraries are increasingly involved in emergency operations, serving as cooling centers during heatwaves and hubs for food distribution and COVID-19 testing during the pandemic. This has increased running costs and libraries have yet to recover due to budget issues.
Library boss Henry Duong said he visits San Jose libraries about three times a week. He relies on air conditioning, especially when it’s hot. He uses Wi-Fi and browses documents in English and Vietnamese.
“Libraries are important, especially when people want to find (resources),” Duong told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “They can come to the library and ask the assistants for advice.”
Many libraries have sufficient infrastructure, Duong said. More investment could be made in a wider selection of books and in supporting young students.
“The funds should be given to the children,” he said. “I think the younger generation that is in primary and secondary school needs a lot.”
San Jose resident and patroness of the library, Nhu Tran, said she goes to the Educational Park branch library every week with her 8-year-old son Eli, who likes to check the chapter books and stuff. regarding Spiderman. Libraries are essential for residents to expand their knowledge and improvements need to be made, she said.
“The books are a bit old and this place is a bit small,” Tran told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “I work, so I try to make time to pick up some books for him.”
State investment in libraries is paramount, especially after seeing the huge role libraries have played during the pandemic, Esparza said.
“(Libraries) have been important during the pandemic. We used them to distribute food, we used them to distribute hotspots,” Esparza told San José Spotlight. “Some of the long-term infrastructure impacts are really about libraries being that connection and that access point.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.