San Jose libraries to upgrade facilities with state funds
Resident Henry Duong visits San Jose libraries up to three times a week and to access Wi-Fi, multilingual materials and enjoy the air conditioning. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

San Jose libraries are on the verge of receiving major upgrades with the state pouring millions into infrastructure projects.

The $439-million Building Forward Library Improvement Grant program—touted as California’s largest investment in public library infrastructure to date—means San Jose libraries are receiving more than $8 million in the first funding round, library officials said.

The program, announced last week, kickstarts necessary infrastructure projects that include roof replacements, air conditioning and heating systems and security upgrades to be made over the next four years. The work will be done across nine libraries in the San Jose Public Library system, which has 25 branches.

The Educational Park Branch Library is one of nine San Jose libraries receiving millions in funding from the state’s Building Forward program. The money will support infrastructure projects. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Libraries are a direct connection to underserved communities, said Councilmember Maya Esparza, whose District 7 area encompasses the Seven Trees Branch Library. The branch is expected to receive $1.4 million, and only Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch Library in District 3 is receiving more, getting $3.6 million in state funds.

“Seven Trees (Library) is one of the top five used libraries in the (San Jose) system,” Esparza told San José Spotlight. “Extended families living in an apartment or in a home, they don’t have the parks in their backyards. The libraries are the living rooms for them so the kids can do their homework, so they can come and access programs, services and get connected.”

Funds for that branch will replace outdated air conditioning systems and old roofs, according to a news release.

The grant also sets up a statewide online tutoring service, which offers multilingual 24/7 homework help on library websites statewide. The tutoring program is offered to learners of all ages and provides assistance in K-12 subjects, as well as citizenship resources and courses for adult learners. Starting Oct. 2, 16 of the 25 city libraries plan to be open on Sunday.

Local libraries are increasingly involved in emergency operations, serving as cooling centers during heatwaves and as hubs for food distribution and COVID-19 testing during the pandemic. This has added to operational costs and the libraries have yet to recover due to budget concerns.

Library patron Henry Duong said he visits San Jose libraries about three times a week. He relies on the air conditioning, especially when it’s hot. He uses the Wi-Fi and peruses both English and Vietnamese language materials.

“Libraries are important, especially for when people want to find (resources),” Duong told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “They can come to the library and ask the assistants here for guidance.”

Many libraries have ample infrastructure in place, Duong said. More investment could be made in a wider selection of books and supporting young students.

“Funds should be given to kids,” he said. “I think the younger generation that are in elementary and high school, they need a lot.”

Nhu Tran’s son, Eli, poses Spiderman-style in front of the Educational Park Branch Library. Tran and her 8-year-old son visit the library weekly to check out books. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

San Jose resident and library patron Nhu Tran said she visits the Educational Park Branch Library weekly with her 8-year-old son Eli, who likes to check out chapter books and anything Spiderman-related. Libraries are crucial for residents to expand their knowledge, and improvements should be made, she said.

“The books are a little old and this location is a little small,” Tran told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “I work, so I try to make time to go get books for him.”

The state’s investment in libraries is paramount, especially after seeing the huge role libraries played during the pandemic, Esparza said.

“(Libraries) were important during the pandemic. We used them to distribute food, we used them to distribute hotspots,” Esparza told San José Spotlight. “Some of the long term impacts in infrastructure are really having the libraries be that connection and be that access point.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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