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Salinas Paletero Cart Offers Food for Thought

In the age of the internet, libraries are in a constant state of reinvention: looking for ways to stay relevant and connect with their communities.   In Salinas the public library is trying a new twist on the old bookmobile. 

It’s a Paletero push cart.  Normally they’re kid magnets with their crunchy snacks and namesake paletas (the Spanish word for popsicles). The library’s version seems to be no exception, even though the only thing its peddling is food for thought.

“Do you have a library card?”  It’s a question Luis Alejandre has for nearly everyone he passes as he pushes a small blue cart with a clunky wheel along a busy street.  He’s a librarian at the Cesar Chavez Library in east Salinas. 

When the kids gather round, he pulls the lid off the cart to reveal stacks of books for teens and tweens.  There’s visible excitement as one kid says, “you have Minecraft books, sweet!”

Twice a week two library staff members push the cart around this predominantly Latino neighborhood.

“You’d be surprised to see how many people who live close to the library do not check out the library. Because either they don’t have time to come or don’t know what services we offer,” says Alejandre.

And that’s the idea behind the Paletero cart: connect the neighborhood with the resource that’s just a few blocks away.  Resources like ESL classes, bilingual story time for kids and computer classes including how to set-up and use email.

“We are in a world where we are advancing really fast with technology.  It's really important to help our community keep up with that, and that’s why we are performing the services free,” says Luis Moya, a library clerk who is also walking with the cart.

On the walk through the neighborhood, Lupita Ayala flags down the cart.  She says her kids love to read, but they don’t have time to get to the library today.  The cart  has WiFi and an iPad to handle book check outs and returns, or sign people up for library cards.  They also give away free books in English and Spanish.

Across the state, libraries are constantly adapting to the public’s changing needs says Misty Jones, the President of the California Library Association.   She says it’s hard to beat the basic benefit of just getting a book into someone’s hands.

“The ability to have that story, to have that information is something that you never can take that away from someone.  So when you give them information, and you give them access to information, you’re empowering them to better their lives,” says Jones.

Since the Salinas Public Library launched the Paletero program last month, Alejandre estimates they’ve given away nearly 200 free books and more than 20 new library cards.

“Very often we’re concentrating on services within our four walls, and it’s very important to take services to where people are,” says Cary Ann Siegfried, Salinas Public Library and Community Services Director.

The library is now building a second cart to expand this service into other neighborhoods.