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The Local Connection: Santa Cruz Public Libraries

In June, Aptos Natural Food is featuring the Santa Cruz Public Libraries (SCPL) for our Local Connection. We established our connections at the beginning of the year and it’s been interesting to find out about how all of them are dealing with the current crisis! If you remember our feature on the Help Line (2-1-1) in February, you will be impressed and inspired to learn that the library supplied staff to man the phone lines there when the crisis hit! Other staff have served as Emergency Service Workers and worked as West Cliff Hosts in Santa Cruz to help people social distance.

We were delighted this month to be able to talk to Diane Cowen, Communications

Manager for the library. If you’ve been in Aptos very long, you will remember Diane as the one with the multi-colored hair who worked at the Aptos branch for close to ten years! Diane started working in libraries at age 15 in her hometown. She shelved returned books, a job she loved and  continued to perform throughout high school. When she moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC as a cultural anthropology major, she found work at the SCPL. Diane says it’s the same thing that attracted her to libraries as to cultural anthropology, which is the interdisciplinary aspect of it. In libraries, you can learn about practically everything. In her study of anthropology, she was particularly interested in American culture. A library can reflect the interests of the community, turn information into knowledge and wisdom, and help people make meaning together. 

Diane was involved with our library at a very important juncture in American cultural history -- when the Patriot Act was passed. The Patriot Act threatened privacy rights and was a call to librarians for Civic Engagement. Diane continued working at the library throughout her college career and beyond. In fact, it wasn’t until she had put in a full decade at our library that she decided to go to library school, where she received her Masters of Library Science. In the meantime, she performed countless functions in various local branches. Now she has what she describes as “the funnest job in the library,” doing graphic design and interacting with the community. When the library reopens, you might see her one day a week at the circulation desk downtown -- now she has purple hair (see picture above).

SCPL had already developed their 2020 work plan and was planning to emphasize digital literacy, community learning and discussion opportunities, and online services, so the arrival of shelter-in-place accelerated that process for them! Since the crisis began, the Library prioritized teachers and students and made available to teachers a Digital Concierge Service, staffed by Librarians to support teachers in the new arena of online learning. The Library also worked with its vendors so that students could easily transition to a digital library card and access all of the Library’s databases beyond its walls. 

Another fortunate resource that allowed the library to quickly pivot and respond to the crisis was the information that their professional association, the American Library Association had the foresight to write up to help guide libraries through planning for pandemics, prior to our current crisis. In their words:

“Prior to closures of the schools and the libraries, and as news of the coronavirus was still just beginning to come out of China, the Santa Cruz Public Libraries reviewed the ALA’s fact sheets on Library planning for pandemics. Before the coronavirus reached the US, the Library drafted a plan to prepare for the potential implications of a pandemic to its services. And while the Library’s public facilities closed on March 14th, the Library never ceased delivering services to the community.”

If you do not have a library card, you can still apply for one here!: and use it to get instant access to their many services, including eBooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines, News, Movies, and Music 24/7 from home! Library staff are happy to talk you through downloading online services seven days a week, from 10am to 5pm by calling: 831-427-7713.

Aptos Natural Foods’ staff person Rib loves using their free streaming services to watch films on Kanopy, which she learned about by attending a volunteer-hosted event called Hidden Gems Film Club at the Aptos Branch, back when congregating was allowed! The good news is that this and many other great programs have gone virtual! For children, interactive and pre-recorded storytimes, STEAM activities, and crafts are held weekly. For adults, Evening Reads, Conversations for Change, virtual book groups, are regularly scheduled, with more programs being added for both adults and children. Visit the calendar for schedules. Don’t forget to find information and entertainment on the Library’s YouTube channel , including super interesting oral accounts of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. 

If she could tell us about only one thing, Diane would emphasize The Summer Reading Program. Kids routinely experience Summer Learning Loss, that is, when they don’t read even five books through the course of summer vacation, they forget some of what they learned in school, and have to be caught up in the fall. Families and students can help prevent that loss by reading, together! Adults can read their own books, while their kids read too, or the family can read aloud to each other. Everyone loves reading and being read to, and who doesn’t love being entered into a raffle? In order to do outreach, the library has tried to connect through teachers, school librarians, and free lunch programs. This year, everything is happening on Zoom and they have some really exciting speakers, such as Dashka Slater, who wrote The 57 Bus. Imagine Your Story is the 2020 Santa Cruz Public Libraries Summer Reading Program. Kids, teens, and adults are invited to read, do activities, and attend virtual library programs to earn a book and chances to win prizes. The program runs June 1 to July 31. Register anytime after June 1st. This year, the summer reading program is more important than ever! Reading fiction helps make us empathetic; reading science, fiction, history, cookbooks, or DIY manuals helps our brains stay in the flow.

A little local history: although the local library movement, association, and reading rooms predate this development by over thirty years, a downtown library near the present location was built in 1903 with a grant from Carnegie. Their collection had 14,000 items, in comparison to 215,000 today! Having outgrown its first building by the mid-fifties, the library expanded to a larger structure, which opened in 1968. In our neighborhood, the old Aptos Branch library opened on Trout Gulch Road in 1944. The current structure opened in 1975 with the familiar octagonal meeting room where they hosted events (before COVID-19) and had bright orange stools in the kids’ room, which some of you may remember.

SCPL 150th Birthday Cake

Of interest to our local community is the building of the La Selva Branch, which is continuing  and slated to open sometime after the COVID-19 crisis passes, so that’s something to look forward to! Library staff are also working with the County to draft plans for renovating the Aptos Branch, as part of the Measure S building projects. We can’t wait!

Meanwhile, the library has been a critical resource in helping local teachers switch their classes to online. They have also been supplying free WiFi outside their facilities for public use, so if you need to study in your car, you can log on! 

If you just love the library and you want to support the great work they do, you can donate to Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries!

The library has just begun curbside pickups of hold items at the Aptos, Downtown, and Scotts Valley Branches. They’ll be calling everyone who has had items on hold to see if they are still needed and arranging for pickups at the most convenient location. They’re hoping to add curbside at Felton and Live Oak Branches as county health orders continue to permit. The goal is to get through the backlog of hold items first. The next step will be beginning curbside pickup of new items! That’s right! With a possible launch date of June 9, print materials will once again be available. You will be able to log in to your library account, search for the items you wish to borrow, and then place a hold request to pick up from your local branch.

We are very lucky to have this wonderful resource in our community!


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