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Azure Grimes: Hello, my name is Azure Grimes, and I am the Senior Program Manager at Libraries Without Borders. I’ve been with the team now for a little over 2 and a half years.
Lisa Alvarenga: Hello, my name is Lisa Alvarenga, and I am the San Antonio Project Coordinator. I’ve been working with Libraries Without Borders now for almost 2 years.
Julia Vallera: Hi. My name is Julia Vallera and I am the Design and Technology Manager at LWB, and I have been here for a little over a month and a half.
Julia: I went to San Antonio as an introduction to one of our programs. Because I am so new here, we thought it would be a good idea for that to be one of my introductions to what LWB does and, also, to meet two of my colleagues for the first time coming out of a pandemic.
Azure: So my role at LWB as Senior Program Manager is that I oversee our programs in Baltimore, Maryland; San Antonio, Texas; and Oakland, California. This is my first time going to Texas and first time seeing our Wash and Learn programs. And so I went to get the differences between all of our WALI sites, meet with partners and funders, as well as connect with our team. This was our first team outing of the year, post-COVID, so it really was a chance for us to get to know each other in person, work together at the sites, and meet with partners and talk through what the future looks like. It was a really great experience.
Lisa: We faced many obstacles. Some being out of our control like partners still not wanting to conduct programming right away, along with others. Just lack of clarity all around from the pandemic, I want to say, has been a major obstacle in reopening WALI. There is a lack of clarity and uncertainty about whether or not, or what the correct protocol is. But there has been a lot of obstacles. Luckily, we have been able to just go ahead and do it which has been very exciting. We’ve seen a decline in cases, people have been getting vaccinated, so that has always been a very good performance indicator. Partners involved… We haven’t seen a whole lot of partners doing outreach services in person. We’ve been seeing a lot of digital programming, but we want to try to step away from that and just test the waters and see how things go. But, we are excited for what comes next.
Azure: I also want to add that this came at an interesting time. We had already two locations in San Antonio that we had to pause via the pandemic, but installing this site was at a new location. This was a new laundromat owner and a new partner, a person that Lisa has been in contact with for about a year now, a little bit before the pandemic. So this was a new relationship, a new location, and so some of those obstacles were (1) making sure the community was interested and so as we were talking to laundromat patrons and installing at the space, making sure people know about the program. (2) Getting our partners on board, and so as Lisa mentioned, getting out of this COVID pandemic fear of getting outside, of not doing outreach, really trying to pioneer what outreach looks like post-pandemic and especially in this dynamic program. And then, (3) creating that space so people felt comfortable, people felt safe, and people felt welcome to use the facilities and use it safely.
Azure: And so that, of course, brought many design challenges like where to put the adult space versus the kid space, how could we make sure that the laptops and the iPads are secure, how could we make sure the staff and the attendants on site know how to get the devices in and out. So, a lot of those basic set up and break down questions as well as long term — what does this site look like for the future and as we are expanding later in the year to two more sites, is our hope, with this particular owner — so what do these spaces look like now.
Julia: I can also add something related to the tech details there. We had an interesting challenge where we were replacing some of the mounts, the security mounts for some of the devices, and they happened to be strongly adhered to the surfaces of the tables. So, we got to figure out how to remove those, and then, install some new ones we did some research on in advance of getting there. But little things like that where there is an experimental element to. Because the WALI program is evolving, and we always want to improve it and find better way to do that with different tech stuff too. So I was happy to be there for that.
Lisa: I can kick this one off, and this is Lisa, again. Really excited to see the ripple effect from it, honestly. Again, we have had a lot of hesitancy from partners to relaunch programming in a physical setting like face to face. So, I’m really excited to have Bibliotech to conduct programming at the location beginning in July, and August, and ongoing. Because we are putting together protocol for programming in person like what are some steps we want to take, what are some precautions we are going to take as well — like providing hand sanitizer, face masks, things like that — so that we can share it with partners who have not yet started outreach services and set the standard. So I am really excited to slowly start seeing other partners join us on board with programming and seeing others get involved — especially the community.
Lisa: I definitely feel like the community, our constituents, are itching to get involved with people again. I know there has been a lot of hesitancy, fear, and uncertainty, but I think as we slowly start coming together again as a community and just talking about what has been going on this past year, it is going to be great. I am especially excited to have other partners join us in the future and just seeing what the effects of in person programming are going to be this time around.
Azure: I am also really excited just from the community response. While we were on site at the laundromats like putting together tables, putting together kidzone, there was this one little girl, maybe not even older than 5, who walked over. She sat at the kid’s table and made herself at home. She had paint with her. She had her books. And she was painting on the table and giving us her feedback on the design. We actually moved the kid’s table — she was like “I actually would like it over there. Could you move my table back?” We already saw community ownership where this girl immediately felt super comfortable approaching the space. She was really excited about it. So being able to talk to other laundromat patrons who were like “What is going on here? What are you guys doing?” and being able to talk about our work, talk about this free resource at the laundromat, and then being like wow this is really cool — that we are able to make that additional connection.
Azure: One patron we talked to — he saw all the free books we were providing, especially to kidzone — and he was like my wife is a first grade teacher and she had a ton of books and a ton of school supplies. So we were able to exchange cards and he is going to reach out to Lisa to talk about providing book supplies in other spaces. Already being able to make those connections with the first three hours of putting the space together and seeing how excited people were that it was coming, it made it good to come back. We’ve been talking about how much we’ve missed programs, how much we’ve missed WALI, and being in the community, so seeing how excited people were, how curious they were, and the attendants that were like the space looks completely different from when it first started. It was really amazing.
Azure: The feedback we got from patrons, from attendants, from the laundromat owner, from our funders has been positive. We’re hoping to ride that high and continue to uplift and be bold, and expand our work — see what other sides of town we can go to, what other additions to the space to make it comfortable, to make it fun. So that was really promising to know that there were a lot of opportunities and excitement for people to participate in this program again. It was really affirming.
Lisa: I just want to add on real quick because we touched on it briefly, Azure did, but expansion. I’m really excited for expansion as well into other locations. There was just an overwhelmingly positive response to the location. We’re really looking forward to, hopefully, launching our next one at the new location, Laundry Rey’s, in September. Just a little bit of insider knowledge.
Q: Julia, what was it like for you to see LWB US’s programming for the first time in person?
Julia: It was really fun, and, speaking of exciting, I loved being there to hear what the partners were saying and how they were responding. We met with a couple different organizations that LWB partners with or gets funding from, and in both cases I got to hear how excited the people that work at those organizations were and the potential for growth. They were just thrilled at how many of the communities that we work in are getting access to these devices and access to the learning materials. It made me think about the many potential directions we could go in, working with people in the community. It was very exciting. There is also a lot of challenge connected to that because as you grow and move into new spaces that is something you are going to have to navigate, related to the design and tech stuff. Really thinking forward about what we would want to do differently or how we might want to adapt to the specific spaces — there are so many things to consider and that for me was a big part about being there in person, and really fun. Overall I felt great about this, and it was just so nice to be with Azure and Lisa, in person, in San Antonio. Very happy with it.
If you are interested in supporting the reimplementation of pop-up libraries in laundromats in over 8 states, get involved in the Wash and Learn Initiative here: https://bit.ly/givetolwb