Education / Schools

San Benito County Free Library wins $500K grant

Funds will be used to hire additional staff and improve internet connectivity.
San Benito County Free Library. File photo by John Chadwell.
San Benito County Free Library. File photo by John Chadwell.

The San Benito County Free Library has plans to hire a full-time digital service librarian and two office assistants thanks to a $500,000 grant made possible through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The money will also purchase laptops, software, WiFi hotspots and a library kiosk to be placed in the community. The kiosk would allow residents to check out and return library materials, place and pick up requested materials, download audio and ebooks, browse the library catalog, and promote library programs and events. 

County Librarian Nora Conte told BenitoLink the goal is to help bridge the digital divide and alleviate some of the internet connection problems in the community. 

Conte said 1,701 institutions across the U.S. applied for the Institute of Museums and Libraries Services (IMLS) grant, and the county’s library system was one of 68 to receive it. 

“We knew what the selection process for this grant would be extremely competitive given that the needs created by this pandemic are great all over the country,” Conte said. “However, we were hopeful because our library grant writing team studied the IMLS grant parameters closely and developed an application package that not only addressed the pandemic-created barriers that San Benito County has been facing, but also was closely aligned with our library’s strategic plan, which is driven by the voice of our community.”

Conte added that the application received the following feedback: “The potential impact of this project is far reaching, sustainable and provides a practical solution to help narrow the digital divide in San Benito County.”

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors will first need to formally accept the grant before the library can receive the funds. Following the approval, which is expected on Oct. 20, the library will be required to provide financial reports during the two-year grant cycle. 

In the press release announcing the grant, Congressman Jimmy Panetta said the pandemic and economic shutdowns “have impacted many of our local city and county services, including our libraries.”

“Fortunately, Congress formulated and passed the CARES Act, which provides for this type of funding for such invaluable resources in our community like the San Benito County Free Library,” he said. “This grant will help the library with its digital resources and improve its community work, not just during the pandemic, but long after.”

Conte said community members supported the grant effort in letters that accompanied the application, including ones from Assemblyman Robert Rivas; Friends of the Library member Mary Schneider; Coalition for a New Community Library and Resource Center member and District 2 Supervisor candidate Wayne Norton; Youth Alliance Executive Director Diane Ortiz; Director of the College Career Connections Program at San Francisco State University Judith Munter; retired academic librarian Peggy Austin; and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) San Benito chapter President Richard Perez. 

Though the San Benito County Free Library closed following the shelter-in-place order in mid-March, the library continued to offer online services such as ebooks and movies before allowing its patrons to check out physical books through curbside pickup in July. 

The library also moved its story time program to Zoom. It also hosts a series of art tutorial videos through its Art Spark program.  

Even before COVID-19, the library offered several online services such as audio books and a movie and documentary streaming app, all available free with a library card.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.