San Benito County Library applying for grants to address possible expansion

A study would be partially funded by a grant from the state.
Young children take out a book from the shelf on June 30, 2022. Photo by Juliana Luna.
Young children take out a book from the shelf on June 30, 2022. Photo by Juliana Luna.

Would it solve the capacity issue if the San Benito County Free Library added a second story?

County Librarian Nora Conte and Supervising Librarian Erin Baxter, who are members of the Coalition for a New Community Library and Resource Center, replied to some questions from BenitoLink about their work. 

The coalition says the feasibility of a second story would be determined by a seismic engineering evaluation included in the Infrastructure grant program plan. Whether the standing structure would be demolished before work on the upgrade began would also be determined by the seismic engineering evaluation.

Because a 2020 bond measure to expand the library lacked voter support, the Building Forward: Library Infrastructure grant from the California State Library was the only funding available which aptly addresses the library’s need for maintenance to ensure public safety.

The library building, which has been standing since 1960 and is located at 470 Fifth Street in Hollister, has a public service area of just over 7,000 square feet. For the past 15 years, the industry standard for new library construction is 1 square foot per capita. This means that the current library facility is equipped to serve about 7,000 people—less than 12 percent of the county’s current population, which is expected to grow to more than 61,000 over the next three years.

If the library expansion project is granted $15 million by the state library, San Benito County would be responsible for contributing $5 million and the state library would be responsible for $10 million. According to the grant website, the grant recipients were expected to be named in the spring.

In November 2021, the Friends of the San Benito County Free Library, a nonprofit that supports and promotes the library, was awarded $20,000 from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation to hire a consultant to help with the plan to expand the library, Aviles said. 

In 2020, the library was awarded $500,000 in a grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to hire more staff and improve internet connectivity. It’s the highest dollar amount awarded to any applicant in the nation, according to Conte and Baxter.

The IMLS advances and supports libraries, museums and similar organizations through research, grants and policy development. Among its many endowments are the Digital Humanities Advancement grant, the CARES Act grant in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program.

The IMLS grant has a unique way of looking at the library’s capacity problem. The IMLS’s idea was to place a 24-hour library kiosk (that can hold about 235 items, according to the IMLS website) across the street from the future site of Sunnyside Park (off Hospital Road and Riverview Way, about four miles from the library, according to the IMLS website.)

The kiosk’s proximity to new housing developments near the Migrant Center on Southside Road is also a definite advantage.

A digital services librarian and a couple of administrators were hired and cross-trained through accelerated learning, according to the coalition.

The team will convert library resources into digital format, wherever applicable. It will create video tutorials, online reading lists, FAQ pages and other contents. It will also deploy mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and e-readers and laptops for checkout. There will be RemoteLocker and 24-hour book check-out and STEAM projects pick-up without requiring a trip to the library.

The coalition said, “Although this kiosk will not mitigate the need for additional physical space in the library, it will help address access barriers for those in the Southside area who lack transportation.”

The kiosk proved its worth at the peak of the pandemic when transactions needed to be contactless.

Putting the library’s capacity issue in perspective, the facility serves 13 preschools, 19 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, 3 high schools and colleges (Gavilan, CSUMB and online schools for test proctoring).

It also provides library cards for all first graders in the county, as well as all Anzar High School students. The library also provides bookmobile stops, family and emergent literacy programs, customized virtual  story times, the Little Books in Little Hands program for preschools and the Gavilan textbook checkout program. There are also outreach programs at school events, events for school-aged children and online resources for patrons of all ages.

For instance, during the Summer Reading period, class visits and other highly attended programs were conducted on a rotating basis. Attendees would often need to wait outside the library or sit on the floor before their turn because of safety restrictions and a lack of space.

The coalition said the language materials most requested by community members were usually ones in English and Spanish. But there was also a significant demand for Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German, Russian and Arabic.

Another high-demand item is multiple copies of bestsellers, but there has been a lack of shelf space.

The wish list also includes: 

  • Research help 
  • Infant/preschool story times 
  • Class visits/library tours and customary story times
  • Tech tutorial
  • Community meeting spaces
  • Teleworking spaces
  • Spaces for students to work collaboratively 
  • Digital content creation/video/music editing studio with software and equipment
  • Story time room with a stage
  • Cultural exhibit space, entrepreneurial lab
  • Job help center
  • A cafe
  • Friends of the Library bookstore/gift shop
  • Craft/maker space, law library integration
  • Archives/local collection/collaboration and historical society 
  • Adult/Family/ESL Literacy programs and science/tech/engineering/arts/math  programming

The County Long Range Facilities Master Plan provides options for 15,000 and 25,000 sq. ft of space for the library.

The library expansion’s projected completion date is 2026.


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Harvey Barkin

Harvey Barkin is a returning writer who contributed to BenitoLink in 2015. He was editor-in-chief at FilAm Star in San Francisco, a freelance reporter for San Jose Mercury News and various publications. He is also a reporting fellow for campaigns, initiatives and grant-funded projects. Previously, he was a tech writer for start-ups and a book reviewer for Independent Publisher, then Small Press.