Changing waiting room culture, one book at a time

by Justin Pye

A new partnership seeks to capitalize on the “dead time” in waiting rooms by engaging children and families in storytime.

The Alameda County Social Services Agency (SSA) and the Hayward and Oakland Public Libraries joined forces and created Read While You Wait to promote literacy and libraries by hosting family story time while customers wait for services.

SSA Public Affairs Director Sylvia Soublet said it’s no secret that the agency, commonly referred to as the welfare office, is not a choice destination for many families.

“They dread it,” Soublet said. While SSA has long-term plans to address issues like the number and location of offices, “we needed to do something to change the experience today.”

In April, librarians began visiting SSA’s Self-Sufficiency Centers in North Oakland, Hayward and Eastmont twice a month to read and sing in 30-minute sets.

“The adults in the room were so quiet,” said librarian Laurie Willhalm, recalling her recent experience on an SSA visit. She has found it to be “ a great way to outreach to people who don’t normally use the library.”

Children are also offered a donated book to take home, and about 360 books have been given away thus far, all of which came from the East Bay Children’s Project.

The program will continue throughout the summer, Soublet said, and SSA intends to host story time once a week in the near future.

Justin Pye is a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism and Journalism for Social Change summer fellow.

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