2021-How it went

The El Cerrito Library Foundation 2021 Annual Report is On-the-Street! If you did not receive a copy in the mail, you can pick one up at the El Cerrito Library or download a copy from our website.

The article, “How it went,” on page one, is an edited version of Heidi’s original article to meet space needs. The un-edited version is shown below:

By Heidi Goldstein, Senior Community Library Manager

The first part of 2021 was spent using the “Front Door Service” concept.

The community of El Cerrito loves its library. This was made abundantly clear during the era of Front Door Service. To keep staff and patrons safe, Contra Costa County Libraries were closed to visitors inside the buildings because of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year. To provide our patrons with the library services they needed, we adapted to a scenario with which we were previously unfamiliar.  

The nature of the El Cerrito Library is that it is relatively compact. Library staff spend a lot of time sliding by one another to get to where we need to go. This has made staying socially distanced an ongoing challenge. To accommodate our patrons’ hungry minds, we did a lot of “dancing” around each other during this time as “front door service” kept us exceedingly busy. 

Our library community made the most of the recently improved CCCLIB.ORG website and began to use its impressive tools to find the items they were hoping to read, listen to, or watch. We were to pull items; people were to get these items; it seemed simple. Patrons had appointment times they could reserve up to a week in advance. We pulled what we could for the following day each night prior to closing. We also fulfilled requests for “grab bags” which were for our younger patrons – when making an appointment, a patron could request that we pull a stack for a specific age group.  

Given how little was known about this virus in the beginning, there were concerns regarding the transmission of COVID-19 and library materials. We began a quarantine process that put a bit of a delay on library items. It was another new task to which we had to adapt.  

However, nobody anticipated the sheer need for entertainment, inspiration, distraction, and education that the pandemic brought. Many members of the community were working from home and students were remotely attending class.  We regularly had people coming to our front door for items to read just to pass the time. We were faced with performing Reader’s Advisory (giving book suggestions) in our doorways with tables separating us. Those unfamiliar with the appointment system just came by asking for library materials.  

It became apparent that there were days where we were the only people some of our patrons were seeing. This compelled us to regularly want to please our community even more. If we were their main human interaction for the day, it was going to be positive! The window to give the excellent customer service our patrons were used to was much smaller than it had been before. We became adept at anticipating when someone would arrive (or not) for their appointment. We got familiar with how to help those who showed up without an appointment. 

By the time we reopened our doors to the public on April 26, 2021, we had the Front Door Service process mastered. I’m proud that we were able to continue to provide our community library services. Thank you for supporting us through this challenging time. If you hadn’t been coming to get library materials, we would have had far too much time on our hands!  

Editor’s Note: Reading about the Front Door Service is one thing, but seeing what it took by the library Staff to make it happen, gives one a much better understanding!  Check out the Staff produced video showing what it took each day to provide it.


The second part of 2021 was a lesson in flexibility overall.

Even though our doors were open and the public was free to once again come inside, we were compelled to make our chairs no longer available. This phase of library service was called “Grab & Go” and the concept behind it was to graciously invite patrons inside, but not have them stay for longer than an hour. Services included reference and account help, holds pick up, check outs and returns, copies and printing, and one hour of computer use. This was a very temporary reduction in the number of services we offered, but luckily it didn’t last too long. By the middle of June, we were free to have patrons in the library while the library was open.

However, even though our doors were open, and people could come inside, it was not the same library our patrons knew and loved. We were facing a new challenge.

During the time of Front Door Service, we had adapted to a new style of library programming. Previously, our in-house programming included such wonderful events such as:

Read to a Dog, Lunch at the Library, Storytime (twice a week), a monthly Mystery Book Club, Tween Book Club, afterschool events and crafts, author readings, a poetry slam, and so much more!

However, with COVID concerns, space concerns, and ventilation concerns, county library administration decided that we were to continue with any remote, virtual programming we were doing. Live programming was not something that we could safely commit to. (As of this time in April of 2022, we have not yet returned to live programming.)

Faced with our new challenge – how do we keep interest? How do we get our patrons to keep coming in for library fun when we couldn’t really host them as previously?

For many of our patrons of the younger variety, the solution was simple, DIY, and perfect for us.

In the library world, it’s called “Passive Programming”. That means that there isn’t someone leading a group. Patrons can come to the desk and request ingredients to a craft, or they can go to an area and collect the ingredients to make at home or in the branch. The advantage of this for us is that not everyone will come at the same time, thus reducing the number of people in the branch at once.

For El Cerrito, we have taken the passive programming to a super crafty fun level and created numerous “Take & Makes”. These are kits with the contents to create the end piece. For example, we gave away brown lunch bags that had contact paper, a stencil, tissue paper, and our young patrons could choose the “snowperson” or the “snowflake” to create at home. These have provided our young patrons with something fun and creative while still giving them a piece of the library to have at home.

We have done many of these take & make kits at this point. We have also held scavenger hunts, monthly online Tween Book Club meetings, biweekly online “Zoom to a Dog” gatherings, remotely visited classrooms, and various other remote programs. Our Storytime heroes, Katy and Julia, got to participate in our countywide online Storytime program.

The passing of longtime library supporter and important El Cerrito resident, Grace MacNeill had a sad impact on the El Cerrito Library. Grace had been a regular presence at the branch and was known throughout the community. We miss you, Grace.

The year has been a challenging one. With assistance from our stakeholders such as our loyal community, El Cerrito City Council, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, Friends of the El Cerrito Library, and the El Cerrito Library Foundation we are able to create a positive library experience in our 72 year-old building. Thank you for your support throughout the year.

We help bring people and IDEAS together