Q&A: Ocean View Library's Jaena Rae Cabrera Talks Summer Programs

The former media worker lays out the importance of libraries and what she has planned for this summer.

Q&A: Ocean View Library's Jaena Rae Cabrera Talks Summer Programs
Jaena Rae Cabrera is marking her third year as head of Ocean View Library. | Anne Marie Kristoff/Ingleside Light

Ocean View Library Branch Manager Jaena Rae Cabrera is ready for a summer full of fun.

Cabrera, who will celebrate three years leading the branch in July, is focused on bringing educational programs to the neighborhood, specifically those geared toward Science, Technology, Engineering and Math aka STEM. In true San Francisco Public Library fashion, all activities will be free and part of its Summer Stride series, an annual program for patrons of all ages to learn, read and explore.

“It's a lot of fun—and it's fun for us as well,” Cabrera said. “I feel like I'm constantly learning, especially with some of the STEM programs that I didn't do as a kid.”

Kicking off June’s activities at the library include Mandarin for Beginners held nearly every Wednesday, Tunisian crochet for beginners, gel plate printing with GoGo Craft and a natural dye workshop. There will also be workshops on “Bubbleology” and sun printing, which Cabrera leads.

Outside of her day job, Cabrera is also the president of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, an affiliate of the American Library Association to address the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander American librarians and the communities they serve.

Cabrera does more than deal with maintenance and administrative issues. She also connects with community leaders like Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside Community Collaborative and Little Footprints Preschool to host additional programs and events.

“It's a very homey feel here,” Cabrera said. “I know a lot of patrons by their first names. I've never had this experience at any of the bigger branches where you have like hundreds of people coming in all the time.”

The Ingleside Light caught up with Cabrera to learn more about the branch’s summer programs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What led you to become a branch manager?

I was a journalist. I still write for a Filipino-American newspaper called Mahalaya but I mostly do arts and culture. When I was a journalist, I did web production for the Center for Investigative Reporting and their podcast Reveal. I went into journalism because I wanted to help people. I wanted to tell people's stories. I wanted to reveal inequities and other issues that we all face but I found myself on the production side. I was just behind a computer all the time and I didn't feel like I was helping people as much as I wanted to and I felt like pivoting to librarianship. The two are related in my mind: journalism and librarianship. We're all about telling people's stories. We're all about preserving information and accuracy. Ultimately it's about helping people in both fields.

I remember as a kid librarians were just there for you. They help you with whatever they can, with whatever resources they have. They can point you in the right direction and it always felt like librarians took almost a personal interest in what I was into as a kid. At my local library down in Los Angeles, one of the librarians was always pulling books about cats for me, for example. I love cats. I have three of them. It was a natural move for me to move into librarianship and I do get the fulfillment that I was looking for. I feel like I'm helping people in a more direct way than I used to because every day it's something different, whether it's something as simple as printing some documents or helping with a job application or a resume or teaching an older adult how to transfer photos of their grandchildren to their computer, something like that.

Librarian with patrons.
Branch Manager Jaena Rae Cabrera leads a children's event at Ocean View Library. | Anne Marie Kristoff/Ingleside Light

Why are public libraries important?

They are important for so many different reasons. We are a community space. We're a safe place for people to gather and connect to information and resources that the city has. A lot of older adults will come here for companionship, either with other older adults or with their own families. They come here as a group. Sometimes they just like chatting with the librarians and staff.

What’s on tap at the Ocean View Library?

We're starting Summer Stride. It's our summer program to help with the gap between school sessions. Every branch has a number of programs. We're doing a lot of STEM-focused programs again.

We have Tree Frog Treks coming where they bring in different reptiles and amphibians for kids to like learn about and to see in person and to touch, even. I think in the past, they brought like a really big python which was really cool. We have some of the more librarian-led programs. We have a mix. Some programs are librarian-led. I'm doing a bubble program called Bubbleology that teaches kids how to make bubbles and what goes into making the solution. I'm doing sun prints with that light-sensitive paper. We're also going to make ice cream in a bag. You just basically put ice and salt and then the cream and whatever flavors you want to just shake it. They’re simple programs that are still a lot of fun.

As far as adult programs, we have a lot as well. A lot of craft programs are really popular for adults. We have a natural dye workshop coming up with a presenter. They're going to teach us how to create natural dyes out of different foods. We also have a Mandarin class that goes out.

How can the public support the branch?

Come see us. Come to our programs. It's nice to see folks using the library and getting a lot out of it. Participate in Summer Stride. Help get our numbers up. There's like an informal competition between the branches about how many people we can get to sign up for Summer Stride. I like to say Ocean View is tiny but mighty. We are the smallest branch but we are very, very much a part of this community and I love that a lot of our patrons have been here in this community for so many decades.

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