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Local libraries provide public services that can help strengthen community bonds

Art+by+Charlotte+Liu
Art by Charlotte Liu

Inside the Library of Things, a community initiative at Mitchell Park Library, residents can find food canning gear, games and free passes to Foothill Park. Mitchell Park Senior Teen Librarian Molly Wallner said the Library of Things is one of many initiatives, including teen events and adult workshops, that libraries have adopted to serve Palo Alto’s needs.

“(For teens), we have our E-library where we have tons of databases for researching,” Wallner said. “For looking for jobs, we have help with resumes through our E-library and free tutoring offered through Brainfuse. We also (run) mentorship programs to help teens put on programs for people within our community. We’ve done a cryptology class which was teen led, and we’ve done crochet workshops that the Paly Crochet Club led.”

For adults, Wallner said a diverse range of programs are offered to meet different needs.

“We have our tax help program and our English Language Learner club where folks who have just moved to America and are practicing their English can meet up and discuss all sorts of cultural aspects of living in America, which is a great way to build community and connection,” Wallner said.

Another event the libraries host are book talks. Stanford Political Science Professor Josiah Ober, who spoke at the Rinconada Library in November about his new book, “The Civic Bargain,” said the staff was accommodating and the audience asked good questions.

“Any author who is interested in getting feedback on their book should certainly take advantage of this program by the library,” Ober said.

Wallner said library spaces are an essential public service since they are free and accessible to everyone.

“(The accessibility) creates that kind of safety net for folks because when they don’t know where else to go, they go to the library,” Wallner said. “And so while they’re here, we can get to know them and get to know what types of things they might need help with.”

During COVID-19, Wallner said the library provided extra services to the community.

“(During the pandemic), the internet in our buildings was on so people could come and use the internet in our parking lots, and we shifted everything that was able to be shifted to the virtual world,” Wallner said. “We also started a virtual volunteering opportunity where teens could read books and then write reviews about them. I think it really helps to bring the teen community together and find like-minded folks to help them through some tough times.”

In addition to volunteering and workshops for both kids and adults, Gunn junior Owen Dahl said many students go to the library to study.

“(At the library, I can) get away from the distractions at home, and I can concentrate better,” Dahl said. “I feel obligated to put my phone away when I’m working.”

Senior and co-president of the Palo Alto Teen Arts Council David Tomz said Palo Alto teens are fortunate to have free spaces like the Mitchell Park Library, which provide amenities and support for student groups.

“We use the library space pretty frequently just to hold our meetings,” Tomz said. “But on top of that, we sometimes have our events there. A while back, we had an open mic in the courtyard area, and we always have our big event at the end of the year called Wave Fest.”

With the wide variety of events the library offers, Wallner said the library is for everyone.

“If you’re unsure about the library, come and find out,” Wallner said. “I very much doubt you would walk out these doors feeling unsatisfied.”

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