The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: Santa Clara City Library Foundation & Friends

Santa Clara, California

An exhibit on The Call of the Wild and Santa Clara's Big Read on display at the Santa Clara City Hall during March. Photo by Mary Hanel, Santa Clara City Library

Imagining the opening scenes of The Call of the Wild is a bit easier for the community of Santa Clara than for readers in the rest of the country. As the story begins, Buck lives a comfortable life in California?s Santa Clara Valley before being stolen and sold as a sled dog. We spoke with Mary Hanel, local history librarian for the Santa Clara City Library, about her community?s Big Read and their local connection to Jack London?s classic adventure tale.

NEA: Santa Clara has a unique connection to Jack London and The Call of the Wild, as the opening scenes take place in Santa Clara. How did this connection inform your Big Read programming?

MARY HANEL: Some of the locations for our book discussion groups and tours were chosen for their connections to the opening chapter of The Call of the Wild: the Carmelite Monastery, which is what now stands on the property where the novel opens; the Jamison Brown House, because the wrap-around porch described in the novel was grafted onto this house after 1917; the Headen-Inman House, because its archives include photos from 1900 of the property on which the novel was based; and the Santa Clara Depot and Railroad Museum, because it can tell the story of College Park Station mentioned in novel. We also had a Cemetery Walking Tour, because the family that Jack London visited near the College Park Station has a large monument and gravesite in our city?s Mission City Memorial Park.

NEA: Can you describe your efforts to involve different parts of your community in The Big Read?

HANEL: We tried to involve teens by asking our library?s Teen Council and Anime Club to give a film showing of the anime version of The Call of the Wild. We wanted to involve our Read Santa Clara literacy program, which was accomplished by giving them the option to choose a graphic novel version of the story to discuss. We wanted to involve our seniors, so we held a book discussion at the Senior Center and publicized events in their Senior Center News. We wanted to involve young people and the multi-cultural community that is geographically North-of-Bayshore, which is why Mission College, located in that area, was chosen for the kick-off event. We wanted to involve our not-for-profit cultural groups, so we sent information for inclusion in many of their newsletters.

We of course wanted school district involvement, so schools were offered the chance to set up their own parallel programming of closed-campus events just for students and teachers. We wanted to involve our university, and thus worked through the Santa Clara University English Department?s ?California Legacy Project,? which promotes the works of the great writers of California. Interestingly, the university is providing both the most family-friendly program and also the most scholarly programs.

We wanted our city council and city manager?s office behind us, so we spoke at a city council meeting and gave council members free copies of the book, and drafted a proclamation for the mayor to sign, which he delivered at the kick-off event. Our city manager?s office produced a YouTube video promoting this event. We had the good fortune of having the Santa Clara beat reporter for our regional newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, cover the kick-off. The local Santa Clara Weekly used a press release prepared by Mission College to announce our kick-off as well. We used our social networking tools---the library?s Facebook and the library and city?s Twitter---to send out some of our announcements and occasional photos, and to try to find and recruit existing private book groups in town to participate. We also had exhibits at City Hall. We announced programs at a Rotary Club meeting to try to get word out through service groups.

NEA: What Big Read event are you most looking forward to?

HANEL: Each major partner---the library, Mission College, the school district, and Santa Clara University?s California Legacy Project---would respond differently. Probably we all were excited by the dog sled team demonstration at the Triton Museum of Art. There was a huge crowd of children, parents, and grandparents, and the event helped us better understand the physical stamina and the work that Buck performed. The kickoff was a big deal at Mission College, with hundreds of people attending. As Local History Librarian, I was most looking forward to the behind-the-scenes tour of the Carmelite Monastery to see how much of the property still looked like that in the book, and to the keynote speech by Jack London scholar and author Dr. Daniel Dyer on the life of Jack London. One of the book discussions that turned out to be the most fun and animated so far was the one led by a 93-year-old retired Stanford literature professor named Jane Emery, whom we recruited from Pacific Gardens, one of our city?s assisted living facilities. Her energy and enthusiasm and ability to get people to connect was incredible.

NEA: What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

HANEL: One big surprise was how quickly we gave away our free books, that the Reader?s Guides are proving quite popular, and that almost every book in the library?s collection by or about Jack London is checked out. Also surprising is the large cadre of people that are coming out for almost every event and the large number of people in the book discussion groups that own dogs. We are thrilled at the event attendance at our programming.

NEA: Any last words?

HANEL: The Big Read really has been fun! It is rewarding to work with so many community groups and with people of all ages in the community. Learning local history is fun, especially if it is tied to a great story. People also want a great story to be ?true? or real. For us, we found The Call of The Wild to be an excellent selection for our community because its language and length are accessible to an ESL audience, and the story enables the partner agencies to approach from so many different angles---historical, ethical, literary, and canine.

Santa Clara?s Big Read continues through April 19. Visit Santa Clara City Library Foundation & Friends? website for more details. To learn more about The Call of the Wild, visit The Big Read website.

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