May Happenings

By Christine Volker

Thanks to everyone who purchased books at our May 21 book sale! We offered great books at low prices. They included best sellers, as well as art and cocktail table books. We enjoyed a steady stream of patrons and intend to repeat the sale to increased success next year.

Below are visual highlights, including Richmond councilmember, Vinay Pimple, purchasing an audiobook. Many found the offerings irresistible, like Emma Clark on our board and Katy Curl, Library and Cultural Services Director (not pictured).

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Vinay Pimple and Joni Owen   


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Emma Clark


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Sometimes deciding isn’t easy


Not only did we sell hundreds of books on May 21, we also conducted our Board and Annual Meeting. A key component was the selection of officers for our fiscal year starting July 1. Here are the officers:

Christine Volker, President

Emma Clark, Vice President

Michele Renee Ramos, Secretary

Cindy Valentine, Treasurer

Board members continuing onwards are: Martha Bielawski, Don Woodrow and Kathy Haug.

In addition, two members-at-large have also joined:

Gilberto A. Cooper

Antonia Lozon

We are pleased that their energy and skills will join with ours as we make the Friends an even more vibrant organization.

Our deep thanks go to:

Martha Bielawski, outgoing President, for her service and dedication in the office.

We are grateful for the work of these individuals who are leaving the board:

Dianne Wightman, who expertly and efficiently served as Co-Treasurer for 13 years.

Lucy Carlund, who skillfully assisted in the Treasurer function; we are pleased that she will continue to dedicate herself to our book sorting and sales operation.

Betty Ann Barnett, who is retiring from the board after many years.

Upcoming Events

We’re pleased to announce our Select Book Sale and Annual Meeting.

They’ll take place on Saturday, May 21 at the Main Library’s Whittlesey Community Room and veranda at 325 Civic Center, Richmond, 94804.

From 12 noon to 4 PM we will be offering books at discounted prices, along with a selection of special books. Buy a few for family, friends or your own collection. Come join us and have some refreshments as well.

At 2 PM we will convene our Annual Meeting to vote on key matters like officers and bylaws. At the meeting, our members can nominate an “at-large director” on the board. Information is in the mail to members,along with a brief survey.

Leaping Ahead: Richmond and Adult Literacy

By Christine Volker


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Sherry Drober, LEAP Director

Spring is the season of new beginnings. It’s an apt time to present the Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP), which helps adults to achieve literacy and education goals.

Sherry Drobner, director, explains the many facets of LEAP in this interview. Let’s start

What is LEAP and whom does it serve?

This free program, under the auspices of the Richmond Public Library, is available to Richmond residents. It originally focused on reading. Now we also include high school equivalency courses and test preparation, English as a Second Language (ESL), math, computer literacy, college bound programs and the new online high school diploma program. Started in 1984, LEAP is one of the first library adult literacy programs in all of California

LEAP has very few staff members and depends on volunteers. Where do you find them?

They respond to our listings on the internet’s volunteer sites, on social media platforms and by word of mouth. We’re also active at public events and distribute flyers. Our longevity in the community works to our advantage as many people know about LEAP and recommend us to others.

Tell me more about these crucial volunteers.

Some have been here for many years. One for twenty, another close to fifteen. Volunteers generally commit to two hours a week. The key quality that volunteers need is commitment. That relationship with the students needs to be respectful, caring and patient. Flexibility is a key quality as student schedules can change; they have a lot that comes up in their lives; they’re typically juggling multiple responsibilities in order to carve out time for their learning.

How about the students? How do they initially come to LEAP?

Many LEAP students have not had a positive experience with education. Something stopped them. Maybe it was in their personal lives, a lack of role models, poor influences, having to help the family, lack of belief in themselves and sometimes lack of support from teachers. Many need to overcome past traumas. We try to help them over the obstacles, showing them that learning is not painful. A case in point is our “Math without Fear” class.

Most come to LEAP to get their GED so they can find a job or go to college. We work with them to grow their confidence and attain success, accomplishing this in small classes and one on one tutoring. This progress is important for them as individuals and also for their families.

Students come to us in multiple ways. They hear by word of mouth, referral from other agencies and community partnerships. One example is the nearby Richmond WORKS office, which assesses their skills and recommends us as a means for the students to obtain their high school diploma. One of our core principles is to build our community of students, so they coalesce, feel supported and are not isolated.

Tell me more about the completion of programs.

We assemble a student waiting list of roughly 15 – 20 names a month. We’re pretty creative in keeping students progressing as we gauge their interest and commitment to the program. We provide 12 hours of instruction and orientation over a few weeks. They take those along with prerequisite classes. This enables the students to build a foundation as well as partnerships and bridges. The students must have clear goals and strong commitments in order to ultimately experience success.

Most of our students are interested in obtaining high school equivalency, which now can be accomplished via the GED, HiSET and TASC exams. It can take anywhere from a few months to four years of on and off study for students to attain this goal; most of our students have attended some high school. Currently we graduate around 20 students from the GED program a year.

We’re always looking at ways to retain more students. People have a lot already going on in their lives between family and work. Retention is difficult in adult education and runs around 30% for the GED program, meaning that is the fraction of enrolled GED students ultimately completing the program. That does not count students completing other courses in line with their short-term goals.

To make educational goals possible for working people, we offer night classes Monday through Thursday from 6-8PM. In the daytime we have classes, like ESL for example, from mid-morning to early afternoon, after which time we concentrate on high school diplomas. We offer mentoring for high school programs as well.

How do you manage to deliver and broaden your programs in this period of budget constraints?

We have a few types of funding sources. Roughly 50% of our budget comes from the City of Richmond, with another 50% from the state and federal grants. We consistently search for additional grants.

We strive to stretch our dollars. Although this might sound self-serving, I have to say that when I compare LEAP to similar programs in other places, we are doing more with our limited resources. We tend to find what we need. We’re constantly juggling students, volunteers and dollars. We’ve been successful at putting together some student field trips, as an example, to make science come alive. For subjects like tech job training, it’s not wise for us to duplicate expertise using our scarce budget dollars, so we made the decision to employ excellent outside resources. We refer students to the Stride Center and online via the GED Academy where teachers and courses stay current and relevant. What’s New? On March 1, the Career Online High School Diploma Program went live. Through this program, adult Richmond residents can earn a high school diploma and career certificate. To start, they need a library card, online assessment and interview. There are two weeks of prerequisites along with success measurement. After an initial period they will be eligible for a scholarship award. They’ll also be given online coaching for career pathing, guidance and connecting with resources.

LEAP will provide tutors if needed, along with access to computers. We want those students to come into LEAP at least four hours a week to do some coursework here, to get additional support and encouragement, again, so they are not functioning in isolation. It’ll take up to 19 months to complete the program. The students receive a scholarship from the state and along with that, LEAP must find monies to match the $1,100 per person cost. We’re looking to businesses and others to help sponsor a resident going for a degree. We will cover up to 18 student slots at this point.

We’ve had more than 100 inquiries. So far, 46 people have started the prerequisite class, with 10 already moving ahead into the full program. We are very excited about this and hope it will boost the graduation rates.

Another recent accomplishment is our Digital Health Project. We created learning plans to help people’s internet search skills in order to find health information for them and their families. This ten hour curriculum involved English as a Second Language instruction along with Excel and general computer skills. Since September, 120 people graduated, half of them taking the course in Spanish.

What is your background and how did you come to LEAP?

I first started working at the Alameda County Library in 1988 with a “Write to Read” program. At that point I had a Masters in Public Administration and a previous background as a community organizer training volunteers. Given my work at the library, I wanted to understand the field in depth. While working, I pursued and obtained an MA and a Ed.D. at UC Berkeley in Language, Literacy and Culture. I developed programs at Juvenile Hall as well as after school programs for school districts that used one on one tutoring. The LEAP job came up and the challenge inspired me, so I applied nine years ago.

What are some of the obstacles holding you back from even more success? Besides the city’s budget dollars, that is.

Overall, adult education programs are not considered a priority in the U.S. That means less funding and fewer resources are available for us to tap. Other types of external support from the federal or state governments which would make it easier for the students to pursue their goals and attain them, are also scarce.

We want to upgrade our website. It’s a key way for us to introduce ourselves to prospective students and volunteers.

How about the future, beyond what we’ve discussed?

I’d love to have 200 Richmond residents graduate each year with a high school education!

Thanks for your insights and your work. Richmond certainly benefits, since roughly 26% of our adult population does not have a high school diploma or GED.

LEAP is located at 440 Civic Center Plaza (510) 307-8084

Please consider volunteering, attending, or contributing: yadultprogram/home

The Changing Mission of Libraries

By Christine Volker

In April, the Pew Research Center came out with an interesting study on “Libraries and Learning.”

Their national survey of library users and community members showed the following highlights:

  • 71% of those surveyed agreed that libraries serve the learning and educational needs of their communities well/pretty well. The percentage was even more positive among women, African-Americans and Hispanics.
  • Anywhere from 12% to 50% of community members don’t know what else their library offers beyond books. (Examples: e-books, job and career-related online courses, with % varying among each).
  • Most recent library users identify themselves as a “lifelong learner.” They cite benefits such as feeling more capable, wellrounded, getting new perspecitves on their lives, making friends, feeling part of the community.
  • 12% of those surveyed didn’t know if/how library helps the educational needs of their community and their family.

McGraw Hill – Shifting Mission of Libraries Today

Their article makes clear that gone are the old days when libraries only stocked printed books. Now they need to offer ebooks, Audio books, video, programming, makerspaces, training and more. This calls for spreading a budget, even a materials budget, over more categories, pointing to more resource dollars needed as well as more library space.

Here is a quick video and features two librarians speaking about the changed mission in a nutshell.

Future Newsletter Features

Tired of getting squeezed into small seats on an airplane? Become an Armchair Traveler from the comfort of your own couch. We’ll be featuring a column on libraries around the world for your fascination.

Almost as fascinating will be our survey results of members, underway and to be published in our Summer newsletter

Jump Start on Reading

By Christine Volker

The Richmond Public Library has offered Story Time for as long as people can remember. What exactly is it? And why does the library put emphasis on this FREE program?

During Story Time, a librarian engages children by reading picture books or other stories to them. Listening to stories and learning new words are keys to a child’s development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read to their children from birth. To succeed, a child needs basic literacy skills by the time (s)he enters school; without these they are 3 to 4 times more likely to drop out. Sadly, dropping out leads to individuals’ unfilled potentials; in many communities, drop out levels are used to plan for prison capacity needs, a stark indication of where the future for some may lie.

It is estimated that a child from a professional family would hear around 11 million words annually, while a child from an economically disadvantaged family would hear 3 million.
The Richmond Public Library’s free program helps to bolster children’s vocabulary and development, evening the odds, along with providing a fun and positive group atmosphere for learning.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In November I sat down with Sheila Dickinson, Children’s Librarian to learn more. Here’s what she had to say.

Tell me about your background.

I’ve been a professional for twenty years, working in the west. For the last eight, I’ve been a children’s librarian here in Richmond. I come from a family of librarians and booksellers. Holidays around our home looked like a book festival! You could say that a love of reading and books is in my genes. So it was natural that I would study library and information science and get my MLS.

Why did you choose to be a children’s librarian?

Despite all of the technological changes that have impacted libraries and other types of librarianship, work as a children’s librarian continues to be rooted in strong personal relationships with kids and their parents. We connect and interact over the stories (Story Times date back to the 1930s) and other activities I organize.

What else should people know about Story Times?

We offer a total of five to ten Story Times per week, taking place in our three branches. They’re listed in our website and also on flyers in the library. I also post these on my personal Facebook page. We try to keep to the same, predictable schedule, so parents and guardians can plan. Story Times are open to the public on a drop-in basis. Kids from ages zero on up are welcome to attend. Roughly 4,500 kids attended Story Time for the first nine months this year. Getting that exposure to words, and to vocabulary in children’s early years is critical. Plus, kids have a lot of fun and get to experience the library as a friendly place.

How do you decide which books to read?

Generally I key off the seasons, holidays and cultural celebrations. November is Native American Heritage Month, so some of the stories I’ll read to the kids will be related to that history or those beliefs, like the story of Raven putting the sun in the sky. I plan far ahead, generally one year, but it’s flexible, so I can take advantage of anything that may come up in current events. Recently I featured stories on immigration and refugees.

How about outreach to kids in schools or those outside of the library?

We still have a commitment to this, but the new school curriculums, test schedules and other rules make it much harder to visit schools on a regular basis. After school tutoring programs in many schools have been cut as well.

How have kids’ tastes in stories changed during the years you have been doing Story Time?

Not surprisingly, 21st century kids have a shorter attention span than when I began this work 20 years ago. Their preferences are for more action and brighter colors. Humor continues to be popular and a big crowd pleaser; funny stories are a sure bet, especially if I don’t know the kids attending a particular Story Time and what they like. I’ve always loved the natural world, and many kids don’t get the chance to run around in the woods or parks as much as they’d like. I want to make sure that through stories, kids coming to Story Time can experience a bit of the wonder and beauty of nature, even in an urban environment like Richmond.

What would be your one wish to improve the experience of children and their parents with the library?

To hire more children’s librarians! There is so much more that we could do if we had more people to help do it all!

With roughly 17,000 kids in Richmond, 18% of the population in poverty, 49% of Richmond families speaking a language other than English at home, and just two children’s librarians plus one teen librarian to serve the huge numbers, the need to boost early reading is urgent.

Story Times Schedule


BayView branch library 10:30am


West Side branch library 10:30am


Main library 10:30am


Main library 12:00pm