Library vital to San Jose State University students remains closed
Librarian Victor Luu said the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library receives daily calls from people asking when it will open. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

The San Jose Public Library welcomed back eager patrons at 23 branches earlier this week. But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, a critical resource to the local community, will remain closed a little longer. The library is scheduled to open Aug. 2.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library is a significant resource to the community, especially for students who have access to books, laptops, study spaces and free Wi-Fi. But library managers elected to open weeks after other branches out of respect for employee safety, even though public demand for re-opening is high.

“We have people every day calling us, asking when we’re going to be open,” said Victor Luu, a librarian. “We want the library to be open as much as they do. We are trying our best.”

Located in downtown San Jose at 150 East San Fernando Street, the eight-story library is a partnership between San Jose State University and the city, serving as a public and university library. Summer session at the university started June 1.

“San Jose State University and the San Jose Public Library will establish a reopening date as soon as possible,” said university spokesman Kenneth Mashinchi.

Luu said opening the library system was complicated.

“We slowly phased in clusters of branches,” he said. “We’re the last to open mainly because of our connection with the university. We had to work with them to figure something out.”

The library’s continued closure is difficult for students and faculty who depend on it.

San Jose State University professor Scott Myers-Lipton said he wants the library to open “as soon as it can in light of safety.”

Students count on the library for printing their papers, Myers-Lipton said. It’s such an essential resource that in 2015 students led a campaign for more access to free printers. Access to computers and reference books, as well as help from librarians, are also important to students, he said.

“Some research can be online,” he said. “But when I’m doing historical research, I look through old newspapers on microfiche, pulling out hidden information from history.”

Myers-Lipton said some of his students slept at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library when they didn’t have a place to go.

“It’s a safe place for students,” he said. “My students fought for 12 emergency beds, so they didn’t have to sleep at the library. We want it to be safe health-wise, but we want it to open.”

University students and faculty can borrow laptops and iPads from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at no charge. 

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library is a partnership between San Jose State University and the city. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

While the library is closed, librarians like Luu help patrons through a program called Express Pickup. To use this, a patron chooses a book online from the public library system, places it on hold and indicates which branch they would like to pick it up from. When they are notified it has arrived, the patron goes to the table in front of the library and calls 408-808-2304 or texts “PICKUP.” A staff member brings the item out. Returns are accepted without an appointment.

Express Pickup is not available at library branches with limited indoor services. At the open branches, the capacity limit is 50% and people are expected to wear masks and practice social distancing. Hand sanitizer is provided.

The public library system is first-come, first-served. If a branch is at capacity, patrons will have to wait in a socially distanced line outside.

Luu said being able to provide pickup service is important to the library’s employees.

“It means a lot to us,” he said. “As a staff member, as a library, our biggest element is customer service. We tried to figure out a way to still be able to at least lend out books while also being safe and following county guidelines.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly included a date for the library’s reopening from a source.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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