By Stephen Cole, Friends of the OPL Board Director
More than 80 library supporters gathered virtually on December 4, 2022 for the 10th Annual OPL Advocates Holiday Mixer.
Attendees included members of the Friends of the Oakland Public Library, the City of Oakland Library Advisory Commission, Branch Friends groups, the Youth Leadership Council, library unions, and other community members. Huge thanks to OPL’s Jamie Turbak, Director of Library Services; Sara DuBois, Coordinator of Grants and Volunteers; and especially Kere Gonzales, Executive Assistant to the OPL Director, for their help putting the event together.
The mixer was held via Zoom – we hope for the last time. Hands up if you’re fed up with virtual meetings! Cohosted by Friends of OPL President Kathryn Sterbenc and Director Stephen Cole, the gathering began with a recognition of the extraordinary dedication of OPL librarians and the library staff in general.
We were fortunate enough to hear from some of them, including Mana Tominaga, Main Library Supervising Librarian, and Celia Davis, Senior Librarian for Adult Programming and
Engagement, who spoke about OPL Seed Libraries and Gardening Programs. Laura Liang,
OPL Children’s Services Supervising Librarian, shared information about OPL’s “Art for All”
Program. Then we heard about OPL Teen Services Supervising Librarian Sharon McKellar’s
“Found in a Library Book” project, which has garnered media attention literally around the world.
Brava to all!
Next up, we welcomed two pieces of poetry by this year’s Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, the
sumptuously talented Nadia Elbgal, who wowed us with her wisdom and passionate empathy. We noted the headlining achievement of 2022, the passage of Measure C with over 82 percent of the vote, ensuring stable library funding for the next 30 years. Thanks again to the legion of supporters who enabled this remarkable achievement.
Looking forward to 2023, further major projects await our attention and efforts, notably our quest for a new or expanded Main Library, a feasibility study for which is still under way; the much-needed expansion of the Tool Lending Library located at the Temescal Branch, which is in the permitting process and, fingers crossed, should go out to bid in the spring; a feasibility study for a San Antonio Branch Library/Community Center that emerged from a community visioning process and a formal recommendation to the City of Oakland by the Friends of San Antonio Park for a community library there; and finally, but by no means least, the effort to restore a library branch in the Hoover-Durant neighborhood, also currently the subject of a long-awaited feasibility study, the result of the tenacity of the Friends of Hoover-Durant.
Our libraries rely, of course, on the support of our City Council, and our public-library branches provide crucial services and safe spaces for Oakland Unified School District students. So we were delighted to welcome council members and elected members of the OUSD board to speak briefly at the event. Council Member Dan Kalb, District 1, a longtime ally of our libraries, was joined by Janani Ramachandran, Council Member-elect for District 4. From the OUSD board, we welcomed Vice President Sam Davis, District 1, and Directors-elect Jennifer Brouhard (District 2) and Valerie Bachelor (District 6). Thank you, congratulations, and good luck!
SIDEBAR: Dear OPL Staff, “We Need You Now More Than Ever”
Editor's note: One of the highlights of this year’s mixer was a recognition of OPL’s librarians and staff, beautifully expressed by Friends of OPL Director Stephen Cole. We are proud to share it here in its entirety in this Sidebar section.
Cicero wrote something to the effect, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” but that was easy for a statesman of the Roman republic to say: He had slaves to tend to both.
Our libraries, our magnificent public libraries, I believe, are one of the best expressions of a
democratic society and culture, vital guarantors of a thriving public discourse, agents of social change, repositories of hope. No wonder they’re under attack.
I don’t want to make Jamie Turbak uncomfortable by unleashing an early blizzard of love and
appreciation for Oakland Public Library, so today I want to say a word specifically about those wonderful people who greet us and help us, the public face of our libraries – the librarians. And the library staff in general, for that matter. Timothy Healy, the late president of the New York Public Library, noted, “The most important asset of any library goes home at night – the library staff.”
I believe you do not get the due you deserve. As a member of the FOPL board, I listened with a mixture of awe and humility to Jamie’s bimonthly reports of what was asked of you during the pandemic. We have learned, too, of the daily challenges with the unhoused and mentally ill faced by librarians at the Main and other branches. Libraries and librarians should be neither the front line of the culture wars, nor the repairers of a severely damaged social fabric. We have relied on your resilience for too long.
But I think there is a growing recognition of your work and our debt. It was notable, I felt, that at last month’s National Book Awards in New York City, the American Library Association was the recipient of the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community. The award was presented by Ibram X. Kendi to executive director Tracie D. Hall, the first Black woman in that role. In her remarks, she noted, “One of the central things we learn in library school is that information wants to be free. Let history show that librarians were on the frontlines of upholding democracy.” And Sabaa Tahir, who received the young people’s literature award, thanked “every librarian and educator and bookseller who has put my work into the hands of a young person who needs it.”
Listen to that again: “every librarian and educator and bookseller.” What a subversive
The first Muslim and Pakistani-American to win this award, Tahir concluded by addressing her – and I quote – “beautiful readers [who] have told me my books make them feel less alone. You make me feel less alone. I have been a misfit and an outcast and lonely and lost, but when I write for you, I am none of those things.”
So, our beloved OPL librarians, please keep putting books in the hands of your patrons,
especially our kids. We need you now more than ever.