In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, Bay Area professional sports teams –San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders — brought in huge crowds through their gates (6,249,019 to be exact), according to an interview with Mary Nacu, Assistant Library Director, San Jose Public Library. This number is impressive given the population of the entire San Francisco Bay Area is just under 8 million. What is even more impressive, however, is the number of people who went through the gates of the San Jose Public Library system.
In that same year, 8,126,461 people visited one of the 18 public libraries in San Jose (not counting all the other Bay Area libraries), according to Nacu. More people come to the libraries in San Jose than attend all the professional sporting events in the entire Bay Area. Who knew?
The San Jose library model has changed dramatically over the years. Gone are the days of a quiet, reserved setting where images of stern-faced librarians behind large wooden desks keep vigil, reprimanding the smallest noise infraction. Nowadays, libraries are filled with people bustling around and energetic, animated employees who eagerly walk the stacks looking for customers to serve.
“Browsing spaces” are now set up with books, videos and CDs that are most popular and “displayed as soon as you walk in,” said Nacu. This is the same model incorporated into major book retailers. The “browsable” concept is designed to be “self-navigable for ease of use and for privacy”. Library workers come from behind their desks and wander around asking if they can help you find something, just as you would encounter in a retail store. The retail model here is intentional. Another purposeful change is addressing the needs of different populations that visit the library.
There is a “teen room” designed in bright colors behind an all-glass enclosure where kids can gather, talk and hang out, without anyone bothering them. Here they can also watch TV, work on the computer or read. The room is enclosed to mitigate the level of noise that is likely to take place when kids gather. While the glass allows for visual observation, it also gives a sense of privacy and separation. The room is widely used according to Nacu, especially during after-school hours. The teen room “is designed to allow for a safe place for kids. A place to go — other than home — where often no one is at home, and it’s lonely.”
For adults who remember the way libraries “used to be,” there is a separate “quiet room.” Here, adults can go with the expectation of reading or studying in an undisturbed atmosphere. For parents with small children, the library has always been a magical place. The children’s section is “the best section in the library,” according to Nacu, who started her career as a children’s librarian. Here you can “watch children discover reading,” Nacu said. There are classic books of fairy tales, modern storybooks and colorful picture books. The San Jose Library has many programs throughout the week designed to encourage kids to embrace the love of reading at an early age. There are also lots of small places to sit, which in the words of Goldilocks, is “just right.”
The library is more than a place for books, though. “This is one misconception that many people have,” according to Nacu. It is also a resource for conferences, informal and formal meetings, media items, audio content, reference material, magazines, digital content, computers and free wireless internet access.
While many people think the internet makes the need for libraries obsolete, nothing could be farther from the truth. Libraries are much more than a search for knowledge, and may be more relevant now than ever before in history.
Nacu said the San Jose Public Library is what she termed a “Third place concept — like a gathering place such as a local pub or church. In an isolated society like we have now, the libraries are becoming a regular place to meet neighbors. In a society where we continually lose human contact, it’s a place to connect with other people in our community. What people don’t get from the internet is community. Being there and browsing among people, exposing people to different ideas and cultures.”
The eight million plus visitors each year are solid proof of how vital and necessary the local libraries are in San Jose. And unlike the $25-plus entry fee to a sporting event, the library is free to everyone–young, old, resident, visitor, rich, poor, citizen or illegal alien–all are welcome at the public library. It is the one place where all lives are enriched, all people are equal, and all have equal access to one of the greatest institutions in the United States: the public library.
–The average annual cost to the taxpayer is $31 to support the national library system.
–There are an estimated 123,291 libraries of all kinds in the United States today.
–Libraries are used now more than ever in this age of Internet.
–The number of visits to public libraries in the United States increased 61 percent between 1994 and 2004; there were nearly two billion visits to U.S. libraries in fiscal year 2004.
–The largest library is the Library of Congress with over 32 million books.
–The Bay Area Stanford University Library is ranked as one of the top 10 in the nation with over 8 million books.
San Jose Library system locations and hours and closures-
Dr. Roberto Cruz – Alum Rock
Calabazas – closed
East S.J. Carnegie
Educational Park – closed
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Seventrees – closed
List of all Locations and Hours
Phone Interview September 2010 Mary Nacu Assistant Library Director, San Jose Public Library, 150 E San Fernando, San Jose, CA 95112.