Thanks to branch supervisor Christy Aguirre, the Southgate Branch of the Sacramento Public Library (SPL), located in a poor neighborhood known for gang-related violence, has become a literacy-promoting safe space.
Almost immediately after joining Southgate in spring 2012, Aguirre, who has been with the Sacramento Public Library since 2008 (and before that spent seven years in the public libraries of San José), initiated partnerships with dozens of local businesses, city organizers, and public and private agencies to offer grant-funded programming and workshops to increase literacy across all ages and abilities.
She brought Desert Storm veterans from the Sacramento Veterans Resource and Rehab Center into SPL’s Adult Literacy Program and combined forces with the Southgate Recreation and Park District to support neighborhood Summer Reading Camps. She reached out to Head Start parents and caregivers, pregnant and parenting teens at the nearby alternative high school, struggling families in housing developments, the AIDS Housing Alliance, the Al-Arqam Islamic School, a shelter for women and children, and more.
The keystone of this literacy push is the summer reading program. To promote it, the library set up tables at events and locations all over Sacramento, including the Filipino Fiesta, San Francisco Junior Giants Baseball Summer Camp, National Night Out, Sacramento Zoo, and more. Library staff visited schools, made presentations at parent/teacher meetings and before the media, and distributed flyers.
As a result, the summer reading program at Southgate tripled in size from 2010 (699) to 2012 (2,100-plus). Nearly half (47 percent) of those who signed up finished the program. That’s the highest participation rate among all 27 SPL branches. The youngest participant was four days old; the oldest, 96, prefers audiobooks. Participants read 5,859 books.
For these initiatives, Aguirre was named the 2012 Outstanding Librarian in Support of Literacy by the California Library Association.
“She can strategically organize a neighborhood event and coordinate dozens of street vendors and local businesses, law enforcement agencies, and hundreds of neighbors, all for the sake of building community in a part of town where people are afraid to leave their homes at night,” says Sandra Hirsh, director of the School of Library and Information Science at San José State University, CA, where Aguirre received her MLIS in 2005, and is the internship supervisor. “Her collaborative efforts have fostered community in a neighborhood that now recognizes its public library as a vital community anchor.”