New: Reaching Out at the Berkeley Public Library

By Phila Rogers
Thursday April 22, 2010 - 05:19:00 PM
Computer access at the North Branch Library.
Sayre Van Young
Computer access at the North Branch Library.
Colleen Fawley, an outreach specialist, getting into her car for her deliveries.
Sayre Van Young
Colleen Fawley, an outreach specialist, getting into her car for her deliveries.

For twenty years now, Colleen Fawley, the outreach specialist at the Berkeley Public Library, has been packing up her sturdy canvas bags full of books and other library materials taking them to Berkeley residents who can’t get to the library. Laughing, Colleen refers to herself as the library ‘bag lady.’ 

“Some days, I may make as many as eight stops,” she says, “but I also have to make time to research and locate books and do the inevitable paper works,” she adds. 

“I visit people in Senior Apartments, in Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Care places,” she says. “For a person who likes to be on the go, this is a perfect job. Sometimes I make deliveries to a social activities person, but most often I’m filling individual request that usually come by phone ,” she adds. 

This day, she’s filling one bag with books and another with audiobooks which she will deliver to Redwood Gardens. For one resident, this is her first visit. A middle-aged disabled woman, the recipient is a long-time resident of the attractive housing that shares the Clark Kerr Campus with the UC student population. She requested mysteries, especially those featuring cats. (You notice cat dishes on her floor), or ones with women protagonists. The sunny apartment is filled with the savory odors of a hearty ox-tail soup being prepared by her helper who comes in twice a week to cook, clean, and do laundry. 

To an upstairs apartment, Colleen wheels a dozen CDs, also mysteries. The mostly bed-ridden patron listens to her books. A poster of California birds on her door announces the home of a bird lover. Inside the apartment, her pet cockateel is perched on top of its cage. 

From Redwood Gardens, Colleen continues downtown to Strawberry Lodge where she will make more deliveries. 

Colleen also visits a number of patrons still in their own homes and apartments. She observes that she is seeing more elders and disabled people remaining in their own places. Programs like the library outreach and “Meals on Wheels,” who we passed in the hallway at Redwood Gardens, are helping make staying put possible. 

For other people with physical challenges who can still make it to the library, there are plenty of services to help. 

Alan Bern, in charge of community relations for the Library describes some of them. “We’re committed to ‘reasonable accommodation’ to help people, disabled or not, get access to what they want and need,” he says. 

“That, of course, includes the 10 minutes we can spend reading the labels of audiobooks for blind or low vision patrons and reaching hard-to-reach materials,” he adds. (I, for one, not as agile as I once was, recently asked for assistance at the information desk at the Central Branch to bring up to eye level several audiobooks from the bottom shelf). 

And then there are all the technical devices to help (referred to as adaptive technology) such as an enlarger for Low Vision patrons and a Reading Edge for blind patrons along with various adaptive software and various Braille labels. 

Upstairs on the second floor, several features help with computer use such as Trackballs which you use to position the cursor. 

Some of these services require that you register for Extended Services. My partner who is now a slow reader because of his Parkinson’s disease recently registered so he can borrow his large print books for six-week periods. 

The library, not only packed with knowledge and information, also serves the community in many generous and innovative ways. 


To reach Colleen Fawley call 510.981.6160 or email her at cof1@ci.berkeley.ca.us . Alan can be reached at 510.981.6107. For general information on the variety services offered, check out the Berkeley Public Library home page and click on Disability Resources. 


Phila Rogers