National City library lures patrons in with music, opportunity

Joe Cofran and his accompanists entertained library patrons with Hawaiian music on a rainy Nov. 7 evening in National City. (Brodkin Webb)

Every Monday night at 6 p.m., a different musician or musical group performs a one-hour concert in the rotunda at the National City library. The free performances are a musical launchpad for library staff to share information on their programs.

Academic Enrichment Programs Coordinator Mikki Vidamo said he has watched as the music brings people in, and it “gives the library a different sense of life” and provides an opportunity to share information, especially literacy outreach..

“Literacy is understanding,” Vidamo said, and that understanding is tilted according to individual perspective; lacking a certain skill set is not indicative of inferior knowledge.
National City Library and Community Services Director Joyce Ryan said music bridges all the gaps.

“If you have someone come in who maybe needs assistance with literacy or English as a second language, maybe the individual will gravitate towards music because it’s a warm and welcoming environment,” Ryan said.

The perception that National City only has Spanish speakers learning English is incorrect.

“We see Ukrainian, Farsi, Korean speakers, people who speak all different languages. It’s important to understand we do outreach to immigrant and refugee learners who come from all walks of life. An entire family coming from China might not speak much English,” Vidamo said, or a family might want to improve their skills so older relatives do not rely on children, who often pick up language at school, as translators.

He estimated “probably half of our learners found out about our literacy programs during Cafe Nights” and might not have stopped by the table for information without the lure of music.

“When it comes to working with literacy and adult learners, you recognize pretty quickly adults need to feel comfortable in their environment. Often, they’ve been in situations which led to not following up with their education. Making people comfortable, helping them feel at home in the library shifts them toward the idea that learning and literacy are a welcoming place,” Ryan said.

The library made great strides with online tutoring sessions during the pandemic, Vidamo said.

“One story that sticks with me is about a man who wanted tutoring but his mom got sick with COVID and needed care for over a year,” so he did online tutoring from home.
Another one of their adult learners was “over 60 and had been through two heart attacks” but was motivated to pass his high school General Educational Development tests. In the months it took him to prepare for the tests, he went through two tutors as the first one moved on to other pursuits. Vidamo noted that the situation is challenging because some of the personal connection was lost in switching tutors but also illustrates the dedication of one individual to pursue their educational goals regardless of age.

All the library tutors are volunteers, he said, often college students, sometimes professors or people in business roles who want to do more and feel a community connection at the end of the day.

By design, Cafe Nights are timed to coincide with some children’s programming so adults can step aside, have a cup of coffee and pick up information on library programs at the same time.

Joe Cofran played Hawaiian music on Nov. 7 in the library rotunda while smiling AmeriCorps volunteers offered up a cup of coffee and directed patrons toward information on story times, a senior dance, tutoring and literacy services.
Similarly, some classes end at 6 so as people are leaving they walk by the setup and find information in their path.

Regularly, the library offers tutoring in reading, writing and mathematics along with preparation for tests like the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery aptitude test which is required to enlist in the military, citizenship classes, and the GED among many others.

“We also have community members with no place to go as well as students who wait for the bus at the stop outside,” Vidamo said and staff wants them to know “this is the community’s library” and anyone is welcome to step in and use the resources available to them.

The library is a unique place, Vidamo said, where performers who didn’t have many opportunities to perform publicly throughout the pandemic have a chance to play in a new setting. Recently, a group of clarinet players unexpectedly brought in an entire new group of patrons.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen everyone leave the computer center, then people from the back came over- it was like a mini concert in there,” Vidamo said.

There are some obvious rules like ‘no open coffee by the computers’ but generally, people are free to relax with the music as a backdrop for whatever brought them to the library.

“If we can include music with a positive vibe while offering services, why not do so,” Vidamo asked.

Coming up in November they have Connie Santana with Latin music on Nov. 14, acoustic rock by Mark Montijo on Nov. 21 and the Hau’oli Ukelele Strummers on Nov. 28.