Silicon Valley Reads: Reaching out to the community through reading

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As I See It

By ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO

Are we maximizing the services the library offers? Or, do we ever use the library in the first place? Did you ever participate in community reading? If you frequent the library, you must have experienced all these and enjoyed the fruits the library nurtures!

Librarians reach out to the community by inviting the people individually to visit the library and take advantage of the library resources. In fact, library personnel exert efforts in its massive campaign for new card holders for people to patronize and maximize library services. This is the traditional approach where we rely on people’s initiative in using the library for their reading needs.

In the city of San Jose, I learned there is a reading program that is effectively connecting with the students/youth for 30 years now, especially during summer. The program is called Partners in Reading which was launched and being coordinated by the San Jose Public Library. The program is a one-on-one tutorial or a class with at least two committed youth meeting with a tutor for at least two hours a week for six months. In 2012, there were about 200 youths in the program and by now, the number must have been doubled.

In Milpitas, the Milpitas Public Library regularly sponsors story times, book talking, putting up reading clubs, also implementing Partners in Reading, and storytelling activities for teens and children. They hold these reading activities, according to City Librarian Stephen Fitzgerald, to help library users in their reading needs.

About ten years ago, Silicon Valley Reads was introduced by the Santa Clara County Library District, Santa Clara County Office of Education and San José Public Library to encourage community reading. It reflects their commitment to the engagement of children, families and educators in reading and discussing topics of community-wide interest.

This year’s Silicon Valley Reads 2019 theme is: Finding Identity in Family History. Three books about prominent individuals whose lives were changed as they learned new and unexpected things about their families were selected, according to Chris Brown, deputy district librarian reporting for District Librarian Nancy Howe during the last month’s meeting of the Library Education & Advisory Commission (LEAC), as the centerpiece of Silicon Valley Reads 2019.

The three selected books are Finding Samuel Lowe by nationally-honored journalist and retired NBC executive Paula Madison; Its All Relative by best-selling author and immersion journalist A.J. Jacobs; and The Stranger in My Genes by CNBC/PBS business news anchor Bill Griffeth.  All three authors started participating in multiple events in Santa Clara County as part of Silicon Valley Reads 2019.

Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, who co-chairs Silicon Valley Reads with Santa Clara County Librarian Nancy Howe and City of San José Library Director Jill Bourne said, “Each of us may find a time when we are curious about our family history – the things that influence us from our known or unknown past. The surging interest in genealogy is helping people learn more about their ancestry and what that family heritage means to their lives.  We are honored that these three authors are sharing their own stories as part of Silicon Valley Reads.”

Each year Silicon Valley Reads urges everyone in the Santa Clara County to read, think, discuss and share diverse perspectives about a theme that is relevant to the region by way of reaching out to the community.

Jacob’s book, Its All Relative, talks about his three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history, starting with his own 80,000+ “cousins” identified in a genealogy database. Just like his other books, Jacobs’s uses humor and his own personal story to provide the reader with information and encouragement to explore on their own.

In the case of Griffeth, his book The Stranger In My Genes, he discovers through a DNA test that the family tree he had spent years researching was not his own.  The book follows his journey of discovery about his ancestors and how this new knowledge changes him and his family.

Madison’s book, Finding Samuel Lowe, on the other hand, describes growing up in Harlem and feeling that her family was somehow different from the African-American families around her.  Her quest to learn more about her mother’s roots in Jamaica leads to the discovery of a Chinese grandfather and eventually reconnecting with 300 long-lost relatives in China.

Activities planned for Silicon Valley Reads include an art exhibit at the De Anza College Euphrat Museum of Art, films, panel discussions, workshops and other special events.

Companion books for children reflecting the theme: “Finding Identity in Family History” were also selected. The three books telling stories about children and teens learn more about themselves when they learn more about their families.

All three reflect the 2019 theme “Finding Identity in Family History.”

Each year, Silicon Valley Reads’ goal is to promote reading and appreciation of literature while igniting conversations within the family about important issues.

The 2019 children companion books are: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal for grades Pre-K to 3 where a little girl discovers why she has six names and how those names relate to her family history; The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods for grades 4 to 7 where Biracial Violet doesn’t know much about her African American heritage until she turns 11 and spends time with her paternal grandmother; and Picture us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert for grades 8 and up where Silicon Valley high school student Danny Cheng discovers a box filled with old letters and files and realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined.

Dr. Dewan said, “The companion children’s books offer a rich opportunity for shared reading and public discourse and move us toward greater understanding.  Youth voice is essential to effective and respectful community wide conversations.”

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a beautifully-illustrated picture book featured in story times at public libraries throughout Santa Clara County started in February up to end of March.  Special events at selected FIRST 5 Santa Clara County Family Resource Centers include distribution of free copies of the book in English and Spanish for book lovers.

The community project Silicon Valley Reads is urging residents to read which is one way of dramatizing the importance of reading, not only for students, but to everybody who wants to make a difference in their lives.

(For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com).

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