Silicon Valley libraries slowly reopening. Here’s what you need to know
Terra Vitarelli and her children, Luca and Michaela, pick up books placed on hold at the Mission Branch Library in Santa Clara. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

For patrons and staff alike, the reopening of the Santa Clara City Library feels like Christmas morning. The public institution recently expanded access to indoor services alongside the Santa Clara County Library District and some branches of the San Jose Public Library.

At all three branches of the Santa Clara City Library—Central Park, Mission Branch and Northside Branch—patrons can now use computers, internet, printing and copying services in the lobbies.

On Tuesday, Terra Vitarelli and her children Luca, 10, and Michaela, 7, picked up books they placed on hold at Mission Branch Library.

“The kids go through the books so quickly, it’s so nice they have such a broad selection,” Vitarelli said. “We’re constantly coming here.”

Michaela said she likes to read graphic novels, while Luca, a history buff, looks online for series or genres to find books that interest him.

“More books to read, more awesomeness!” he said.

Computers at the Milpitas Library. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.
Computers at the Milpitas Library. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Santa Clara City Library branches aren’t the only public facilities offering access to indoor services.

At six branches of the Santa Clara County Library District—Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Saratoga—patrons can now enter the building Monday through Saturday from 1-6 p.m. without an appointment to browse books and use technology. Patrons can also place items on hold and pick them up from the lobby or curbside during operating hours.

And at five branches of the San Jose Public Library—Alum Rock, Tully Community, Edenvale, Evergreen and Seven Trees—patrons can make appointments to use computers and printers. Starting April 26, the Bascom and East San Jose branches will offer these services, while others will continue outdoor-only access.

Itzel Enriquez, a clerk at Milpitas Library, said she looks forward to seeing her friends and coworkers.

“Everything kind of shut down out of nowhere,” she said. “The hours were cut for some of the staff. All the extra help we had, we had to let them go, so they’ve basically been on unemployment.”

At branches of the San Jose Public Library, patrons can place books on hold at and pick them up Monday-Saturday from 1-6 p.m. Photo by Patricia Wei.
At branches of the San Jose Public Library, patrons can place books on hold at and pick them up Monday-Saturday from 1-6 p.m. Photo by Patricia Wei.

When the pandemic started, local libraries pivoted to aid in disaster service work, from assisting with youth programs and senior food distribution to COVID testing and running blood drives in partnership with Stanford Blood Center. San Jose Public Library led the city’s SJ Access initiative, which provided 12,800 WiFi hotspots to K-12 students. Staff also used 3D printing equipment to make and donate face shields for medical workers and older adults, said library spokesperson Elizabeth Castañeda.

Cynthia Bojorquez, assistant city manager and acting librarian for Santa Clara, said libraries are critical social infrastructure, where anyone regardless of age, gender or economic status can go to receive free services.

Residents who can’t afford WiFi or lack access to computers and printers can utilize these services at the library, Bojorquez said, and staff are around to support patrons and help them find answers to questions. That safety net fell apart when facilities closed due to the pandemic.

“Where do they go to charge their phones?” she said. “All of the sudden they didn’t have a social connection or access to resources. The whole gap between those who have and have not is huge, and here is where it comes into play.”

Victor Kim returns books to the Santa Teresa Branch of the San Jose Public Library. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.
Victor Kim returns books to the Santa Teresa branch of the San Jose Public Library. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Santa Clara City Library branch lobbies opened two weeks ago, and when computer labs opened last week, 20 people showed up at Central Park Library the first day.

“We heard joy from people, they were so grateful,” Bojorquez said. “They popped out their Santa Clara library card and were excited to use it.”

The Santa Clara City Library jumped into virtual programming last year when it received access to Zoom licenses through a grant.

And according to Castañeda, San Jose libraries plan to continue offering virtual programs, hotspots, laptops, tablets and outdoor WiFi coverage to patrons even when the pandemic is over.

Balancing safety with service, libraries in the South Bay will fully reopen in phases and continue with a hybrid of virtual and in-person services.

“It was heartwarming to see people in the building,” Bojorquez said, “and to know we’re taking the right steps back to a new normal.”

Check the Santa Clara City Library, Santa Clara County Library and San Jose Public Library websites for services, hours and locations.

Contact Patricia Wei at [email protected]. Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]. Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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