Volunteer Highlight: Christine Quan


School Library Partnerships program volunteers provide vital support to Oakland’s public school libraries. Chris Quan is one of our superstar volunteers and she is deeply appreciated by the school library community. Not only does she provide regular library support at Redwood Heights and Allendale elementary schools, she processes new books to distribute all OUSD libraries, ensuring they’re on shelves as quickly as possible.

“Chris Quan has been a boon to the RHS library. She comes by on a weekly basis and works her processing magic to more than double my usual output,” shares Redwood Heights Elementary librarian Jeff Chang. “Additionally, Chris is far more knowledgeable about most things library-related and an invaluable resource.” Chris also regularly volunteers at OLC’s book distributions and on the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus for school events. When she isn’t volunteering, Chris is busy with her adorable grandchildren and thinking about exciting destinations to travel to. Learn more about Chris and the deep love of libraries and books that inspires her to be such a dedicated volunteer.

Hi Chris! What’s something people don’t know about you?
I once sang at the Apollo Theater! It wasn’t for my singing ability but part of a behind the scenes tour my husband and I took in New York. People on the tour were polite and no one was booed off stage. Only my granddaughter loves my off key singing.

We recently had the trip of a lifetime to Egypt. Traveling energizes me. I love it but my husband is a homebody. Currently I’m trying to persuade him to take a Grand European river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest during tulip season. After we get back from a trip, I enjoy reliving it by organizing our pictures into a photo album digitally.

How did you get involved with school libraries both professionally and as a volunteer?

My involvement with school libraries started many years ago when I became the PTA paid librarian for my children’s elementary school which was Carl Munck. I had no experience running a library and it was before OUSD libraries became automated. I continued to volunteer in libraries as my children went on to middle and high school.

Tell us about working at Allendale Elementary’s School Library. How did you get involved?

I showed up for a school clean up day at Allendale in 2015 and kept returning for many weeks afterward to finish cleaning up and organizing the library. When it was completed, I had a conversation with the principal about how the library would just return to its former state if no one looked after it. He asked me if I would be willing to be that person. Since I was retiring from pharmacy at the end of the year, I agreed to do it for two days a week. I left in 2019 hoping that a full time library person would be hired.

I still really did not know much about running a library but received a lot of help and mentoring from Kim Flom with Children Rising. FOPSL was a great help too with weeding and organizing. The opportunity to take the DVC (Diablo Valley College) Library Technician program on weekends sponsored by FOPSL and OUSD made all the difference in how I viewed and managed the library. There is so much more to a good school library than just checking books in and out that most people don’t realize.

What is something you love about working in a library?

Children have a special place in my heart. Seeing their faces light up and their excitement over books and reading is my favorite part of working in a library. It’s like watching them opening Christmas presents everyday.

Chris and OLC volunteers processing books for OUSD schools

What would you like people to know about why school libraries are important and why volunteering is so valuable?

All OUSD students should have access to school libraries staffed with qualified librarians and technicians and stocked with current high interest, high quality books, but they are most needed at neighborhood schools where students have the least. Good school libraries are not a luxury but a necessity. A fact that has been recognized in schools in more affluent neighborhoods but that access has not been available to students in poorer neighborhoods. Studies have shown that good school libraries improve reading scores. Students need to be able to read to learn other skills. Good school libraries spark students’ interests and help them become lifelong learners. Now with so much fake news circulating on social media, it is more important than ever that students have access to current reliable information and can discern what is the truth and what is fake.

I am hopeful now that OUSD school libraries are starting to turn around. There is still a long way to go and a lot of work to do. Whatever I can do to free library staff to do the work needed to improve their libraries is my small contribution to their efforts and most importantly to Oakland students. Volunteering brings so many rewards too. It just feels good and I meet so many great people also helping out.

What are some challenges facing school libraries today?

Most school administrators do not understand what makes a good school library. They don’t understand why a person should be trained, why a person needs time outside of seeing students to develop programming and the collection, how a trained person can recommend books for further reading knowing what a student likes and how that person can partner with teachers to deepen the learning experience. Another big challenge is convincing them to provide a budget for new books and the need to weed books. Thank goodness for Steph and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation this year for its generous donation to the Elaine Wells Books Kids Want to Read program. Without that donation and the generosity of individual OLC donors, many school libraries would not have gotten any new library books this year.

What do you enjoy about volunteering on the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus or doing book distributions?

It’s so fun to see the children getting all excited seeing the bus. I enjoy helping them find a book they like. They energize me to do it again.

Chris Quan poses on a camel in the desert

What is one of your favorite children’s books to share?

I don’t get the opportunity to read to children like I used to at Allendale. Nowadays I enjoy cuddling up with my grandchildren and reading to them. My eight-month-old grandson’s favorite book is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? He stops whatever he’s doing and crawls over whenever I start reading it. My 3 year old granddaughter’s favorite color is pink. She has had me read “Pinkalicious” at least fifty times, if not more.

What are you reading now?

I was looking for books to read for AAPI month and ran across Aru Shah and the End of Time. It’s a great mix of action and Hindu mythology. I think it appeals to the child in me.

To learn more about volunteering in Oakland’s public school libraries, contact leigh@oaklandliteracycoalition.org

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