Library Visit and Diversity Assessment of the
Temescal Branch of the Oakland Public Library
San Jose State School of Library and Information Science
LIBR 220 RISPD: African Americans and Persons of African Descent
Introduction and Demographics
The stated mission of the Oakland Public Library is to inform, inspire, and delight
Oakland’s diverse community as a resource for information, knowledge, and artistic and
literary expression by providing the best in traditional services, new technologies, and
innovative programs. The Library fulfills this mission by selecting, acquiring,
organizing, preserving, maintaining, and providing access to materials and resources that
address the needs of Oakland’s diverse and complex communities. The Library’s
collections provide general reference resources in addition to information and
entertainment that speaks to the interests of the special communities served by specific
branches. The Oakland Public Library seeks to be sensitive to the expressed needs and
concerns of the community. The collections affirm and uphold the right to intellectual
freedom and access to the full range of information and ideas.
Over 70% of Oakland residents are of non-European ancestry. Approximately 30% of
Oakland residents speak languages other than English. Chinese and Spanish are the most
frequently spoken, but the Oakland Unified School District lists over thirty other
languages that are spoken by Oakland students. Temescal is an ethnically diverse
residential neighborhood in the northern part of Oakland, California with large
concentrations of African-Americans and Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants. The
Temescal Branch of the Oakland Public Library is located at 5205 Telegraph Avenue at
the end of the Temescal commercial district where restaurants include Eritrean, Korean,
Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and American cuisines. Small shops populate the
area and there are three nearby schools. The Temescal neighborhood reflects the
homogenous cultural vibe that permeates Oakland, California.
Programs, Services, and Activities
The Oakland Public Library and its branches offer several programs and services aimed
at improving literacy, language, and intellectual skills among the diverse populations of
Oakland. Besides borrowing privileges, the Oakland Public Library provides Adult
Literacy Programs, computer classes, online book clubs, story reader programs, disability
services, tax help, homework assistance programs, Bookmobiles, Lawyers in the Library,
Meeting Rooms, a Tool Lending Library, and Interlibrary loans services that enable
access to the Library’s collections from any branch of the Library. Oakland Public
Library programs and services are generally conducted in English, but aimed at the low-
income underemployed populations of Oakland. The Temescal Branch provides current
information on local community college schedules and local employment opportunities
that do not require a college education.
The basement of the Temescal Branch houses the Oakland Public Library’s Tool Lending
Library where patrons can borrow tools for up to three days in order to complete home
maintenance and other projects. The Tool Library was opened in January 2000 and was
originally funded by a Community Development Block Grant. The Tool Library offers
1200 hand and power tools free of charge for home improvement, remodeling and
repairs, gardening, landscaping, and seismic retrofitting. Residents of Oakland,
Piedmont, or Emeryville, California may borrow the tools. Because most of the older
homes in the Temescal neighborhood belong to African-Americans, this is a tremendous
local resource that provides for the upkeep of the physical environment and maintenance
of property values.
The Oakland Public Library Second Start Literacy Program is an important community
resource for educating illiterate adults in Oakland. Temescal Branch offers a confidential
setting where adults can receive a free opportunity to learn literacy skills. Second Start
matches volunteer tutors and adult students to provide instruction in basic reading skills
necessary to improve their lives. An estimated 38% of Oakland adults (more than
114,000) lack the literacy skills needed to perform even the simplest, everyday reading,
writing, and math tasks. An estimated 60% (more than 180,000) are not ready to meet the
basic literacy demands of work in the 21st century. These data reflect native-born
English speakers, those whose first language is different from English, young and older
adults who never had a chance to attend school, those who may have dropped out of
school, or attended substandard schools, or those with undiagnosed learning difficulties.
Given that Oakland is almost 40% African American, there is a strong presumption that
the number of illiterate adults includes a substantial number of African Americans.
The weekly story time for toddlers and families is a substantial effort at providing
language instruction to a community where many children are home with parents and do
not attend pre-school. African-American grandparents are particularly prone to raising
their grandchildren due to parental absence resulting from employment, incarceration, or
abandonment. Africans who seek to involve their children in educational English
language reading activities will appreciate this free and regular activity provided by the
The mission and policies of the Oakland Public Library operate on the presumption of
diversity and an awareness of the presence of several non-European cultures in Oakland.
Thus, the Oakland Public Library Collections include items in the Amharic, Chinese,
French, Japanese, Khmer, Spanish, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Tagalog, Thai, Tigrinya,
and Vietnamese languages.
The Temescal Branch has approximately 29,000 books, compact disks, videos, DVDs,
audio books, audiocassettes, magazines, and newspapers for all ages. Circulating
materials consist mainly of fiction, home repair, home decorating, and gardening. A
search of the library catalog for the subject, “African American” revealed 322 subjects
housed at the Temescal Branch. A similar search for the subject “African” revealed only
6 subjects at the Temescal Branch. In regard of the Ethiopian and Eritrean populations in
the neighborhood, the Temescal Branch is the only branch of the Oakland Public Library
with books in the Amharic and Tigrinya languages. African American topics are mingled
in relevant subject areas along the shelves, while Amharic and Tigrinya language
materials on specified shelves. Other ethnic specific resources are available at other
branches and may be available through interlibrary loan. Reference materials are
generally excluded from interlibrary loan.
In addition to the Amharic and Tigrinya collections at the Temescal Branch, there are
several ethnic resources available at other Oakland Public Library Branches. The African
American Museum and Library at Oakland is a service of the Oakland Pubic Library
devoted to preserving, organizing, and sharing the African American experience in
Northern California through exhibit, programming, archival, and research documents.
The Dimond Branch of the Oakland Public Library has an American Indian Collection.
There is an Asian Branch in Oakland Chinatown that houses and Asian and Asian
American studies collection and provides books in Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese,
Korean, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian. Spanish language materials and
materials about Latin America and the Chicano/Latino experience in the United States are
available at the César E. Chávez Branch Library. In addition to the African American
Museum and Library at Oakland, Black history collections are available at the Main
Library, the Martin Luther King, Jr. and West Oakland Branch Libraries.
Two female individuals consisting of an older Anglo-American and a younger African-
American staff the Library. Their rank and titles are not apparent by their appearance.
Presumably, at least one person is the Librarian while the other might be an Assistant
Librarian or Volunteer. Two males and one female consisting of African-American and
two Anglo-Americans staff the Tool Lending Library in the basement. These numbers
match the demographics in the community given that Oakland has almost an equal
number of African-Americans and Anglo-Americans. However, no other minorities
groups were represented. Yet, volunteers of diverse backgrounds are invited to participate
at the library. The racial makeup of the Oakland Friends of the Library is not apparent by
its membership lists.
The Temescal Branch of the Oakland Public Library has the exterior of a modest Tudor
mansion that is tempered by an interior decorated with wooden beams and natural
sunlight. The entry way is filled with shelving that houses publication and flyers
regarding neighborhood events and programs. Copies of the Globe Newspaper, billed at
the only certified audited African American newspaper in the East Bay, are prominently
displayed. Another available publication relevant to diversity issues is the Temescal
News & Views whose mission is to enhance the quality of life in Temescal’s diverse
community through revitalization of homes, businesses, schools, and public services by
providing an ongoing forum for community interaction and empowerment.
The Library has displays commemorating its approaching 90th birthday and the Carnegie
libraries, including Temescal, across the nation. The circulation desk is centered between
the two wings of the Library. One wing is dedicated to children’s material while the
other houses fiction, nonfiction, audio books, and media for teens and adults. There are
several round tables with chairs for comfortable browsing of the materials. The only
items for sale were magnets featuring images of the Temescal Library exterior at the cost
of one dollar. The Tool Library is located in the basement an elevator ride away from the
adult wing. There was a stark absence of artwork depicting the multi-cultural heritage of
the local community.
Summary and Recommendations
The Temescal Branch of Oakland Public Library performs an adequate job addressing the
needs of Africans and African Americans in the community by providing adult literacy
programs, toddler story readings, African language materials, and the tool lending library.
Recommendations for improving the services and programs for Africans and African-
Americans include 1) soliciting African and African-American business involvement
with issues concerning the support and funding of the Library; 2) encouraging African
and African American patrons to participate in the Libraries programs and services; 3)
prominently displaying multi-cultural depictions of library patrons. The Temescal
Branch of the Oakland Public Library remains a community resource and fixture in a
thriving community of diverse inhabitants.
Oakland Adult Literacy Task Force.
Oakland Public Library Home Page
Temescal Branch Library
Oakland Public Library Collection Development Policy
Adult Literacy – Second Start Literacy Program
Bay Area Census – City of Oakland
Temescal, Oakland, California
East Bay: Temescal