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Insider Article [April 2014] [04/01/13] (Member Spotlight: St. Helena)
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Member Spotlight: St. Helena Public Library

Library Journal: Best Small Library in America finalist

Thursday, March 13, 2014, at a beautiful ceremony at the Indianapolis Central Library, the St. Helena Public Library became the first California library to be honored as a Best Small Library in America finalist. On hand to receive the award was director Jennifer Baker and library board chair Bonnie Long whose trip to PLA was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Among the many initiatives highlighted in the library’s nomination were recent efforts to reach out to teens, adults and Spanish-speakers. The library’s goal is to bring the English- and Spanish-speaking communities together through bilingual events like an annual salsa contest (the eating kind) and live performances — like flamenco music and the dancelike Brazilian martial art of capoeira — that transcend language.

The programs serving teens, Spanish-speakers, and many other new services grew out of a nine-month needs assessment aimed at identifying and setting priorities for addressing community goals through library services. Based on feedback from the assessment, completed in 2010, the library reorganized resources to meet the needs it found. With no additional funding, the library was able to increase staffing, hours, services and programs. In the last year, the library has focused on creating an infrastructure for ongoing, self-directed use, developing a bilingual video series to help users self-navigate library and community resources, and a master community events calendar funded by an LSTA grant.

The residents of St. Helena are extremely excited about the award which has already made front page news. Baker recounts, “dozens of individuals congratulating me in restaurants, on the street, and even in the doctor’s office.” When Library Journal editor Rebecca Miller asked her to what she credited the award, Baker automatically responded, “Not what, whom: the staff, and of course, Elsie the Library Cat!”

In addition to full expenses for two to attend PLA, the library also received a $10,000 grant as a part of the award. The funds will largely be used to enhance those library projects and programs recognized by the award. However, Baker has plans to reward the staff as well. “Since CLA will be in Oakland this fall, which is not far away for us, we plan to have our annual staff day at the conference.” Staff has put in three different proposals for CLA programs, one of which is specifically about being a small library. If selected for the conference, staff will share what they have learned about taking big ideas implemented at larger libraries and scaling them down to work for their community.  Regardless of whether they are invited to present, St. Helena Public Library will be represented well in Oakland. “We plan to close the library for the day and all of us will go. Well, except for Elsie, but we’ll get her some treats.”

Jennifer Baker
Library Director, St. Helena Public Library