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New ‘Beyond the Shelf’ column: Making La Jolla’s library engaging and inclusive is No. 1 in our book

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Here the La Jolla Light introduces “Beyond the Shelf,” a new monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

Why the library is thriving

“It’s so much fun to come to the library now,” said Amelia Eastman, a familiar face at the La Jolla/Riford Library. Eastman is the mother of two elementary school-age children who frequently attend library programs, including hands-on workshops by the Fleet Science Center and lectures intended to inspire children to pursue their dream jobs as adults.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey by the Mid-Continent Public Library system in Missouri found that patrons’ biggest need from the library is “social interaction.” That also rings true in La Jolla. In December, library staff set out to collect 436 holiday cards so every resident in assisted living in La Jolla could receive one. The response from patrons and schools was overwhelming, resulting in 444 holiday cards distributed to 13 retirement facilities.

It is fair to say the future of libraries lies in programming. La Jolla/Riford Library’s branch manager, William Mallory, said: “Everything we do is done with the aim of engaging library users, from the curated collection of books and alternate resource items to e-services and in-person or self-directed programs like the holiday card drive. We seek to put patrons in touch with their individuality, their interests, with one another and with information they may need, albeit safely and while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.”

Outreach goes hand in hand with community engagement. We don’t just want to serve the traditional library-goer. We want to attract nontraditional library-goers — the people around the corner who don’t necessarily realize the library has something for them. We are constantly taking stock to ensure we have something to offer every demographic.

Building partnerships with schools and local organizations helps the library tremendously. “Around the holidays, we attended the library and La Jolla Music Society’s event,” said La Jolla resident Julie Herrmann Schaffran. “It had something for everyone — live music, munchies and a story time. It’s a great way to bring La Jolla together, especially if you are newer to the area.”

All the meticulous planning in the world won’t matter if people don’t know about a program or service, so marketing is key. With help from Friends of the La Jolla Library, the branch boasts a revamped website and sends out a weekly e-blast to patrons (sign-up for the e-blast is available through lajollalibrary.org.) The library also has stepped up its presence in schools, on Instagram and in fliers.

In sum, this is a very exciting time to be in libraries. Change is a given, and we relish the opportunity to adapt with the times in creative ways that continually provide connectivity for the public.

EDI an imperative at the library

More books on display and on order at San Diego Public Library branches have principles of equity, diversity and inclusion in common. Our patrons have taken note, praising seeing more people of color and different abilities and backgrounds featured in books that staff members choose to highlight.

“Every kid, every adult, everyone should be able to see themselves reflected in books at the library,” said Mina Khosrowshahi, a library assistant at La Jolla/Riford Library, one of 36 branches in the city of San Diego library system.

Data from the 2020 U.S. Census show San Diego County has become significantly more multiracial in the past decade, with the number of people who identified as two or more races tripling. The largest minority groups in La Jolla, Hispanics and Asians, were the minority groups that saw the biggest increase countywide.

The call for EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) extends beyond the collection. Take library staff, for instance. Khosrowshahi and Shadi Sarikhani are both from Iran. Dennis Abad and Susan Fordan grew up in the Philippines. And I am originally from El Salvador.

The series of bilingual story times naturally blossomed this past summer. Every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., Abad, Sarikhani and I take turns leading bilingual story times in our native language, with English translation interspersed.

Mina Khosrowshahi, Dennis Abad and Katia Graham show books used in the La Jolla/Riford Library’s Bilingual Storytime series.
(Courtesy of Katia Graham)

Spanish Storytime typically kicks off the month, and then Tagalog and Farsi follow the second and third weeks. The library is recruiting volunteers to add French and Mandarin sessions to the lineup.

“That way, kids are exposed to different languages and explore different cultures,” Abad said. “It means a lot because we are kind of the bridge for kids who grew up here and the older generations from other countries. It gives me joy to see them enjoying what I do.”

Based on guests’ reaction week after week, the rest of the Bilingual Storytime crew agrees.

At La Jolla/Riford Library, EDI is an imperative from the inside out.

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library at 7555 Draper Ave., a branch of the San Diego Public Library system. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a master’s in library and information science from USC.