Arcade Library is not a quiet place. At least not when librarian and roller-derby coach Jessica Zaker is around.
The tattooed administrator is on a crusade to redefine the community space with fitness programs like “Brutal Yoga” and “Zombie Survival Aerobics.”
“It’s our mission to do the unusual in the library,” she explained in an office full of art, knickknacks and books. “It’s just not the hallowed halls that it used to be. It doesn’t have the same hush.”
Zaker’s brainchild is Punk Rock Aerobics, a monthly fitness series that’s been heating up Sacramento Public Library community rooms for the past three years. At January’s installment, about 30 people gritted through a routine called “Industrial Strength,” which sets weightlifting to electronic and punk music. Feb. 1 is Partner Yoga, featuring an all-duet soundtrack, and March will mark the start of “Riotgrrrl Plyo,” a similarly edgy class based on jump training.
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When not training the women’s roller-derby team Sac City Rollers, branch supervisor Zaker runs a variety of programs at Arcade including PRA, which she has also introduced in McKinley, South Natomas and Central libraries. She only does the programs in libraries with community rooms that contain loud noise, she said.
Librarian Lexie Kalbach taught Zumba, a popular dance fitness program, at Southgate Library for the first time on Saturday.
Kalbach, who normally provides children’s programming, said there is always a long waiting list for the library’s Zumba DVDs.
“We’re about getting the community in, doing innovative programs and doing stuff that people can use in their daily lives,” she said. “It does kind of make sense.”
South Sacramento resident Yajaira Martinez said she was searching for Zumba online when she found Kalbach’s class. The 25-year old, one of four participants in Saturday’s session, recently moved to the area from midtown and had not yet been to Southgate Library, she said.
“It’s an interesting location,” she said. “The library is usually a quiet place, and Zumba is like a party.”
The Zumba classes and Zaker’s efforts are both part of Sacramento Public Library’s wider strategy to increase branch use, said public information coordinator Malcolm Maclachlan. Fresh graphic design strategies, new library staff and a spectrum of programming from MineCraft sessions to digital book discussions show “the flexibility and creativity we’re allowed here,” he said.
“Libraries have always relied on the skills and talents of their employees,” said Sacramento Public Library Director Rivkah K. Sass in a written statement. “We’re just doing it in ways we’d never thought of before.”
The fitness programs help fill in the gap in library attendance by twenty-somethings, a demographic that Zaker said is rarely seen in libraries.
“When they’re kids they come for story time, when they’re teens they come to study,” she said. “When they have their own kids they come back for story time and when they’re seniors they spend time in the library.”
“People in their 20s and 30s use the library,” she added, “but they don’t spend time there.”
Cardholders ages 20-29 grew 10.3 percent between January 2013 and January 2014. They comprise 18.7 percent of the system’s 642,837 current cardholders. The library system supports every program, be it an aerobics session or a raw food presentation, with materials from its own collection that attendees can check out after the event.
American Library Association President Barbara Stripling said she is not aware of many library fitness programs but acknowledged the void between teenagers and parents. She called the fitness idea “ innovative” and “absolutely in sync with what’s going on nationally.”
“That’s perfect because it combines healthy body and healthy mind,” she said. “That’s brilliant, to offer that kind of an experience.”
Stripling also cited an increased interest in “maker’s spaces,” like recording studios and 3-D print shops, where young people can create or construct. In May, the Arcade Library opened Design Spot, a recreational area featuring a 3-D printer, which Zaker said makes it the perfect location for fitness and other alternative programming.
“This is where people come to do their 3-D printing, this is where they come to do their Punk Rock Aerobics,” said Zaker. “It’s going to change the library from just a warehouse of books to a dynamic community space.”
Seeing the need for 20-something-specific programming, Zaker and fellow librarian Lori Easterwood created community blog “alt + lib” in 2009, which organizes book discussions at bars and coffee shops. The alt + lib Meetup group currently has 625 registrants.
Zaker said her idea for alternative programming was initially inspired by Genre X, a book club for adults at the Oak Park Public Library in Chicago.
While fitness has come up as a possibility for the Genre X crowd, founder Jennifer Czajka sticks to monthly book clubs, carefully selecting literature that is meatier than young adult books and more thought-provoking than some mainstream titles. Getting her friends, who are busy with jobs and social commitments, to the discussions was initially a challenge, she said.
“A lot of people in the age group, it’s compelling to them to have a reason to read and engage with literature,” she said. “ If they’re putting 11 titles a year on their plate, that’s great.”