Jennifer Baker: Benicia Librarian

“In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim.”  -Linton Weeks

The City of Benicia is lucky to have a new library director, Jennifer Baker, who has taken the helm of our community’s library.  During the short time she has been on board, Ms. Baker has supervised the tricky transition from strict COVID library closure, to a less severe and more welcoming situation.  She has revived foot traffic in our city library with workshops, book readings, computer/wifi access, and tutoring with the help of able staff members. Her resume includes serving as library director at St. Helena Public Library, supervising librarian at both Solano County and Fresno County Public Libraries, communications media specialist at Napa Valley Unified School District, and more. Benicia Magazine had an opportunity to interview Ms. Baker and find out more about her.

BM: What was your first impression of the library in Benicia?

JB:  I started in January of ’22, so I’ve been here a little more than one year.  I came in at what I thought was an opportune time to recover from the isolation of COVID and get back to normal, and continue to provide the excellent services that we are known for. Benicia is such an exciting and dynamic town.  People are so welcoming and ready to emerge from the COVID experience, and are getting used to normal life.

BM: What were the positive things that you noticed about Benicia Library?

JB:  Right away, I realized that Benicia is a solid community, and that Benicia’s people are its biggest asset.  People are kind and willing to work together.  The library staff is also reliable and hardworking. Some staff members have been here for a long time, and have a strong connection with the community.  They are good at what they do and actually know people by name. I am excited to work with such a dedicated staff.

We have some new grants that will fund new programs and opportunities for our community.  Most of us are ready to welcome new activities and experiences to move on from the doldrums of the pandemic, and the library is ready to help in that regard.

BM: What can we do better?

JB:  Our beautiful brick and mortar building is reflective of our solid community, but it is thirty years old. We even had a 30th birthday party for the library.  The services that libraries were expected to provide in the ‘80s and ‘90s have changed over the decades. Our library was built before the Internet was mainstream, and before WiFi.  Today’s libraries are expected to provide access for all library patrons and level the playing field.  Libraries are the great equalizers.  But sometimes libraries have gaps in services.  We need to be culturally sensitive as well as culturally supportive.  Lastly, we need to make people aware of the many opportunities that the library offers.

BM:  How did your prior experiences prepare you for your present job in Benicia?

JB: I have worked for the past thirty years in different Northern California communities in various capacities. I’ve spent time in K-12 libraries, and served on a college board.  My experience has shown me that the bigger the city, the slower things change.  It is like the difference between the Titanic and a speedboat. And that ability to make positive change within a short period is possible in our city.  I hope to expand the vision of the library for all stakeholders to include more workshops and opportunities for self-improvement and learning.

BM:  What recent doings at the library have you facilitated that have been well-received?

JB: Well, recently we had Benicia Reads, an event attended by more than 300 people.  Now, I can’t take full credit for this successful event, as there were lots of volunteers and staff members who gave their best effort.  Benicia Reads is an event put on by a partnership between BUSD, the City of Benicia and the community. This event promotes literacy and a love of reading and books.  We had a book giveaway, storytelling, children’s activities, teen activities, book readings and other interesting things to do. Best of all, we had people drop in who had never visited the library before.

Besides Benicia Reads, we have other exciting and interesting events, thanks to some grants that we have received. We have speakers like Claudia Rankine, an award winning poet who read from her recent book, Just Us: An American Conversation, a collection of essays, poems and stories. Ms. Rankine has also written five books of poetry and three plays.  We also hosted a reader’s theater program and a play that was sent out to patrons via Zoom. We have had talks and workshops  on permaculture, monarch butterflies, women’s history, “create it yourself” art lessons, making cards, paper, and how to do watercolors. Library patrons really get to enjoy themselves.