Rico Jesse, 6, and father Nick check out books on the last day of the Salem Public Library on Broadway location on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

When Marion County Law Library assistant Yolanda Bombardier heard about a state grant opportunity, she immediately thought of an easy solution to a need posed daily by library patrons.

“I looked around at what people requested that we had difficulty providing, and it was recharging their devices,” said Bombardier.

The $5,000 award, one of seven awarded to Marion and Polk county libraries, will allow the purchase of several charging stations that will be made available for patron use at no charge. Bombardier expects to have the stations, along with USB drives, shortly after they receive the funds and made available to patrons at the law library located in the basement, room 181, of the Marion County Courthouse.

The grants from the State Library of Oregon are funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, a Covid economic stimulus package passed in March.Both public and private institutions were eligible for funds.

The Salem Public Library is adding a mobile outreach van with grant funds, serving neighborhoods far from library locations. Their $119,509 award will also cover translation and interpretation into Spanish and American Sign Language for some library programs.

Sarah Strahl, who’s been at the helm of the Salem’s public library for a little over three years, said the van has been a goal since her first months on the job.

“We had an outreach group come up with a mobile outreach van- a pie in the sky idea. That has been building from there,” she said. “Many patrons can come to the library but many in the community are unable to make it the two locations. The idea was to make it easy for staff to bring books, technology, activities mobile programs to different neighborhoods especially those further away from the library such as south Salem, and northeast Salem.”

While the library has a book mobile, they are limited in its use as it requires a driver with a commercial license. Their grant will fund a spiffy new van with a WiFi antenna, specialized shelving to strap in materials, pop-up carts, tents allowing neighborhood story times, STEM activities, library materials, and access to internet and mobile devices.

Strahl credits the Salem Public Library Foundation with much of the work and partnership for the grant; they will serve as the fiscal agent for the funds. She said the van should be operational by next fall.

The Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University secured $17,740 to expand coverage and capacity for its WiFi services. According to

“The library was built over 30 years ago, before wireless was a thing,” managing librarian Craig Milberg said. “Over the years the wireless networks were put into the library, but because it was an older building there have been places where coverage wasn’t so good. Patrons couldn’t get on the network, or it would get too busy and devices would drop off.”

As a private institution, Willamette University has an academic library which includes collections and databases not available in typical public libraries. These will once again be open and accessible to the community, along with the expanded Wi-Fi, when Covid cases recede.

Woodburn Public Library Manager Mike Jansen worked over the past five years to develop partnerships with community agencies aimed at improving access and use of Woodburn Library services.

When the grant opportunity came, he reached out to these partners, which included area Head Start programs and school districts, for letters of support.

The library received a $98,500 grant for a book mobile, a transit truck that is able to tow a sixteen foot box with stairs so patrons can enter into the space and select from the collections. Jansen hopes the service will reach rural and migrant communities and expand access to Spanish and Russian speaking families. It will also help expand Internet access.

“Ideally there will be a librarian who would is staffing it. It will be a hot spot when it arrives at the location, and patrons will be able to check out hot spots as well for two weeks as you do books,” said Jansen.

“When I was a children’s librarian, I’d talk about all the great things we had, but children were still relying on parents to bring them. Now they can use the service right away,” said Jansen.

He and staff frequently provide presentations to families participating in Head Start, or students at area schools about library services.

“The difference is now we will be able to bring our services to the people,” Jansen said.

Correction: This article misstated Yolanda Bombardier's title. She is a library assistant, not a librarian. Salem Reporter regrets the error.

Jeanine Stice is a freelance writer based in Salem. Contact her at [email protected]

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