If you head southeast from the Lakeview Library, way down to the 80s blocks of International Boulevard, be sure to take a turn at 88th to visit the Elmhurst branch of the Oakland Library. You'll have to look closely—this library is in a small converted house. Elmhurst operates like any other public library: books to check out, computers to use, and a children's program. But it's got a problem: most kids can’t get to it very easily. The Elmhurst branch is trying to fix that.
On a recent afternoon, toddlers from the neighborhood are gathered in the Children’s Room of the library for a special story time with shadow puppets and musical instruments. Children’s librarian Ted McCoy, who has been working here since February, coordinates programs like this for the library a few times every week.
“We’re a little flexible, cause we’re a smaller branch," explains McCoy. "We have to be a little bit more utilitarian sometimes in what we do. We’re not necessarily specialized as maybe some of the bigger branches.”
Mary, whose grandson is here for story time, makes it a point to bring him as often as she can. "I used to bring him every Thursday, for the toddler time—probably when he was about a year old," she says.
Librarian McCoy calls people like Mary “Elmhurst Hardcores” because they are here at almost every event. Hardcores like Mary are few---there’s only three kids here today
“We don’t have the level of participation that other branches have there. For a variety of reasons,” notes McCoy. “Geography plays into it. We’re situated directly adjacent from International Boulevard. East 14, which is hard for classes to cross together," he continues. "One of the things I spoke to my bosses about was doing outreach and finding different ways to engage in the community and the neighborhood, right around the branch."
And that's what he's done with Elmhurst Outreach. The program allows McCoy to bring the library to the children. He goes to Boys and Girls clubs around Oakland, to public schools, to church events, and even to grocery stores.
“In the works we have a story time in the Food Maxx and in Ranch Square mall,” McCoy adds. “Our goal is to connect Oaklanders with their library, and the more children that we can reach with our outreach the better," he explains. "So I kinda view our outreach as a never-ending quest.”
Though McCoy will soon be leaving for a new job, he is assured that the outreach will continue with or without his presence.
Alyia Yates is a student reporter at Mills College in Oakland.