If home is where the heart is, then the libraries that serve the Marin County community and its citizens are just that—a home away from home.
Local libraries provide near-endless opportunities for empowerment, enlightenment and enrichment, and they help to place the tools for success right at their patron’s fingertips. Whether young or old, successful or struggling, seeking the answers to life or just looking to check out a book on beluga whales, Marinites can find the library to be an invaluable resource and an intrinsic community fixture that provides a plethora of unseen services and assistance beyond books.
“Our community is a community of readers who value their public library system,” director of county library services Lana Adlawan said. “Community members of Marin have been flocking back to their local libraries, especially since COVID, and you can see they’re just so happy to be in a community space that values reading, education and knowledge.”
Alongside offering an ever-growing rotation of more books than any one person could read in a lifetime, the local libraries of Marin provide programs to promote education, equity and anything else that may fill a gap in what the community needs.
“Number one among our programs is our mobile preschool, a beautiful traveling service called a Learning Bus, where we hire early childhood educators to provide families across the county with education programs in both English and Spanish,” Adlawan explained. “We’re a key education partner in the community, and we’re preparing children and parents, especially in language barrier families, and helping them be successful.”
And though the Learning Bus is essentially Marin’s very own version of Ms. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus for preschoolers and their parents, the program still only ranks second place in terms of adorable education programs provided by the library.
First place for cuteness is reserved, of course, for the Read to a Dog program, where children may come, grab a book and find a furry companion with whom to practice their storytelling (without fear of judgment, given that dogs are as notoriously illiterate as they are adorable). This allows children to gain a sense of comfort and confidence in their reading abilities, away from the possibility of peer judgment.
“We also have technology you can take home, wifi hotspots you can check out, chrome books, tech support, 3D printers for those interested in exploring new tech, citizenship and literacy support for the naturalization process with Spanish-speaking staff,” Adlawan said. “We even check out video games since we really try to keep up-to-date with what all ages of our community need, so we just added a whole number of Nintendo Switches!”
This means children who come from less privileged backgrounds can still access the tools they need to succeed, including books, computers and yes, even games.
“…In our county, the library is here to help [its children] succeed in whatever way we can,” Adlawan said.
Libraries are, to this day, underutilized and perhaps even under-appreciated, considering they are the final frontier of free places to be. In a world of consumerism, where even parking somewhere to take a hike or driving across a bridge to see a friend, can cost more than $10, public libraries offer financial reprieve to those in need.
“We have so many resources,” Adlawan said, “and I encourage everyone to come to the library, especially in the society of today, since it is becoming rarer and rarer for people to be able to come and enjoy the treasure of community in a truly free welcoming safe haven, our libraries—what we do, it’s free, and a gift.”
This safe haven extends to and includes, as it should, the unhoused individuals that comprise a growing portion of Marin County’s citizens. Those without a roof over their heads, who are struggling to get back on their feet, are among those who most benefit from the library’s free services.
“As our mission states, all are welcome,” Adlawan said. “We look to offer an environment that is equitable and diverse. So whether you are housed or unhoused, all are welcome to come and enjoy our services.”
After all, a public place where one may find a reprieve from the elements with the promise of free access to computers and wifi (without being expected to spend $5 on a coffee for the privilege) is essential for those who are without funds but want to apply for jobs. Even more than that, libraries offer a quiet corner where people may come to simply exist within their community, without being expected to contribute anything other than silence, respect and on-time returns on rentals. In this aspect, libraries are Marin’s most invaluable asset, one which should be protected and preserved.
“We did a community-wide survey coming out of the pandemic, and what we heard, from those housed as well as unhoused, is that they felt like they had lost that connection piece [during COVID],” Adlawan said. “The community, they wanted to be in a place where everyone could go, and the library and all its branches have been reconnecting people of all ages and places, and that’s an incredible benefit, for mental health as well, within our community.”
Throughout history, libraries have been called by many names: sanctuary, safe haven, a final bastion of community where capitalism and consumerism can’t reach—but, in the end, all those terms boil down to the same idea. The library is a place where all are welcome, and the hushed whispered greeting of the librarians may as well say, “Welcome home.”
“For me and our library staff, we just want to say thank you for using and loving the public library, and for demonstrating your support for it and our entire team of over 100 full-time employees,” Adlawan said. “All of our doors are open, and we just appreciate that the public appreciates their libraries so much.”
For more information about the Marin County libraries and their programs and resources, which may vary from location to location, visit marinlibrary.org. Visitors can also call any of the locations across Marin in Stinson Beach, Novato and South Novato, Point Reyes, Marin City, Inverness, San Rafael’s Civic Center and Anne T. Kent California Room, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Bolinas or the traveling bookmobile. And don’t forget to check out other libraries, such as the architecturally impressive Mill Valley Public Library.