Yolande Wilburn
Yolande Wilburn says it’s important to stay on top of changes in the way people interact with libraries. — Drew Penner/Press Banner

When the Boulder Creek library reopens May 7, it will feature a completely revamped children’s area, community room updates and a new teen section. The stained-glass window will remain a showpiece, and there will be an art gallery as well as a pleasant reading space by a fireplace.

Investing in the physical is an important part of strengthening the world of literacy in the county, according to Santa Cruz Public Libraries head librarian Yolande Wilburn.

Because, as far as she’s concerned, the book-lending and digital materials institution she oversees may have limited resources, but can wield outsized influence.

“As the library, we provide information resources and educational services to the community,” said Wilburn, who is new in her role as of January. “But we’re also connectors.”

That’s why she’s pushing for a policy update at the next Joint Powers Authority Board meeting, May 5, that would open robust new facilities being built with Measure S money to community groups. She’s hoping it will pave the way for initiatives similar to ones she’s championed in California—and further afield.

Organizations could use rooms to teach evening classes. Nonprofits could have a rendezvous point to set residents up with services.

“There’s no reason for us to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to inviting our partners into our space.”

Wilburn started her professional bibliophile journey through the page program at the Chicago Public Library.

That’s where she started the Innovation Lab, which established a “maker space” within the urban library.

To this day CPL still runs introductory workshops and an “open shop” so people can flesh out their ideas on their own or for patrons to embark on collaborative endeavors.

The Innovation Lab tapped into the expertise of outside groups to facilitate technical programming, she explained.

“We’re not the experts in how to use a laser cutter,” she said, adding the library can be a point of contact with other educational pathways. “We’ll connect you up with a college that’s nearby.”

She took a job as a supervising librarian at the Higher Colleges of Technology, in Dubai, where she worked for about a year.

Although the country doesn’t have the same tradition of institutional libraries, the region has been going through somewhat of a new Islamic Golden Age.

For example, while she was there, the Emirate of Sharjah was in the process of providing millions of books to families through a home library project.

“Literacy rates there are really low,” she said. “The sheiks realize that there’s a need to educate people if you want successful communities long-term.”

Upon returning stateside, Wilburn took a job in the heart of South LA, at the A.C. Bilbrew Library, between Watts and Gardena.

The facility houses the African American Resource Center, established in 1978, and serves as a fountain of knowledge about Black history in the country.

While there, the low-rise minimal modernist structure underwent an upgrade, which she says was sorely needed.

Soon she moved almost straight west to the brand-new Manhattan Beach library. Like Santa Cruz, it’s sited on the cusp of the Pacific, in a community famously visited by Duke Kahanamoku during surfing’s nascent age.

The second floor of the glass building offers a direct view of orange sunsets over inky blue waves.

“I got to christen it,” she said. “That’s a beautiful library.”

While administering the Nevada County Community Library system, she met current Scotts Valley City Manager Mali LaGoe. Wilburn was convinced of the need to fix up the Truckee branch, as well as other libraries in the vicinity.

The two got the ball rolling on a process to establish a multi-municipality effort towards improvements.

“I really pushed to renovate and remodel our libraries,” she said. “I worked closely with Mali as we explored the ‘joint powers’ possibility.”

She headed back down to SoCal for a two-year stint in Torrance as the city’s top librarian. There she was in charge of six branches, a $7 million budget and a circulation of 658,246.

Wilburn says she’s excited to be at the helm of Santa Cruz Libraries, with Measure S renovations chugging full steam ahead—albeit with some supply-side hiccups.

“The people of Santa Cruz County are really committed to building and refurbishing their libraries,” she said. “I’m really thrilled to be here.”

She says it’s important to be conscious of changes in the way people interact with libraries.

“People use the space differently,” she said. “We want to be able to provide some quiet spaces, but we have to be aware that people learn in different ways.”

The Scotts Valley Branch, a former roller rink, is currently under construction. It was supposed to be finished around February, but delivery delays—for things like acoustic dampeners and exterior materials—have pushed back the timeline.

“We’re hoping that we can get occupancy in mid-to-late-May,” Wilburn says, adding there will probably be contractors adding finishing touches until June. “Then, we will be able to move into the building and put materials on the shelves.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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