Marin County Free ​Library Focuses On Equity Amid Coronavirus

Kristina Houck
·4 min read

MARIN COUNTY, CA – With a sheltering order keeping people at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, reading is an even more important option to pass the time. The Marin County Free Library has developed some innovative ways to help people cope while the 10 library branches are closed.

As it pivoted to boost online services and continue serving as a vital communication resource, Marin County Free Library showcased its renovated website, marinlibrary.org, during National Library Week April 19-25. It highlights digital resources that are most in demand and provides answers to frequently asked questions while branches are closed.

“With visits to our libraries no longer physically possible, we knew our website would have to serve as a virtual branch,” Marin County Free Library Director Sara Jones said. “It just so happens that the timing worked out well with National Library Week, too.”

Inspired by its commitment to educational equity measures – ones that direct services to those who need them the most rather than equally to everyone – Marin County Free Library ramped up efforts to assist with Marin’s most vulnerable residents.

Books were given to kids at Hill Education Center and Hamilton School in Novato recently. With a $350 donation from First Book and New York Life, South Novato Library sought a matching grant from the Friends of the Novato Libraries and purchased almost 800 books, including bilingual titles. They were given away at an event called the Book Bistro.

“The families were thrilled to get the books,” Marin County Free Library Assistant Director Chantel Walker said. “One parent who primarily spoke Spanish told library staffers that she ran out of books long ago and was so happy that she could just take some for her kids.”

Amie Carter, the assistant superintendent of the Novato Unified School District, said the book giveaway could not have come at a more opportune time.

“As our students face the challenges of this time, it gives me great comfort to know that — thanks to the generosity of our community — so many of our students now have the company of new literary friends,” she said. “This gift is broader than simply the book itself; it is the comfort of imagination, wonder, escape, and hope that lies in the pages of these books. I have no doubt this kindness will long be remembered and cherished by our students.”

Library staff members pitched in to provide support to first responders, health care workers, and essential workers by starting a pop-up child care and learning center at the South Novato Library. The center provides distance learning support, meals, and a safe place for students in sixth grade through high school. The center adheres strictly to the COVID-19 guidelines created by the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.

Partnering with local school districts and the Marin Promise Partnership, Marin County Free Library expanded its existing Wi-Fi hotspot services to students who have little or no access to the Internet so they don’t miss a beat with distance learning. Staff members from the Marin City Library embedded at Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City distributed Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks to students and bagged food for the food bank. They also reached out to families in the after-school programs Smarty Ants and Reading Buddies to see if kids needed support.

Marin County Free Library is showcasing Lynda.com to its cardholders, too. The service provides access to more than 8,000 courses and 255,000 videos in popular fields such as web design, web development, information technology, education and instruction, media production, and business.

“Although we love inspiring children’s reading, we are committed to helping people of all ages remain strong and to offer resources for those looking to increase education, development and job skills,” Jones said.

The Marin County Library Foundation has helped enable Marin County Free Library to perform important equity work during the pandemic. The nonprofit foundation assures equitable and innovative approaches to library services and funds projects like the Wi-Fi hotspot project, the Bayside MLK Jr. Academy, and the 3rd Grade Reading Literacy Gap Program. In addition, the Friends of the Marin County Free Library support local learning and literacy projects such as the Summer Learning Challenge and lifelong learning opportunities for all ages.

— News release submitted for publication by County of Marin

This article originally appeared on the San Rafael Patch