‘Spirit of Novato’ Award Goes to Literacy Ambassador Barbara Madrid

Volunteer manager of The Book Place on Grant Avenue is saluted for dedication

NOVATO – Barbara Madrid grew up as a military brat and became a devoted reader early on, which explains her passion for books and all things literacy related.

“The first thing my mother did when we moved to a new city was to say, ‘Let’s go find the library!’” she remembered. “All these years later, I cannot visit without bringing her a sack of books. My brother and I both inherited that gene. In our homes, there are always one or more books at the ready.”

For the past 13 years, Madrid has been the volunteer manager of The Book Place, a used bookstore on Novato’s Grant Avenue run entirely by part-time volunteers. Barbara operates the retail store with its 70-plus volunteers as if it were her full-time paid job. But as if that were not enough, she has also found time to serve as an elementary school classroom aide, and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Marin County Free Library. Past positions included leadership roles in Soroptimist International of Novato, and acting as Novato’s representative on the Marin County Library Commission.

For those reasons, Madrid was honored at the city’s 64th birthday party January 20 at Marin Country Club as the 2023 Spirit of Novato award winner. A local resident since 1987, she received a raucous ovation along with the 2023 Novato Citizen of the Year, the annual Novato Chamber businesses of the year, and the employees of the year from the Novato Police Department and the Novato Fire Protection District.

The Spirit of Novato award, presented by the Paint the Town Red Board, recognizes a Novato resident whose selfless, enthusiastic, helpful volunteer efforts over several years have enriched our community.

Madrid said receiving the honor is “a humbling experience.”

“I do not really like to be in the limelight, although I feel very proud that the efforts I put forward are being recognized,” she said. “If it inspires someone else to lend a hand in the community, that would mean a lot. Everyone has something to offer, and why not have fun in the process?”

Madrid has devoted most of her time since retiring from corporate communications to making books accessible for all, especially children. She started volunteering at the shop’s previous location in Pacheco Plaza before it migrated to Grant Avenue in 2003. Jennifer Goldfinger, a 12-year volunteer at The Book Place nominated her for the award.

“Barbara is the embodiment of the Spirit of Novato, someone who devotes an extraordinary commitment of time and energy to our community,” Goldfinger said.

Guiding the store through the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, Madrid said. The shop was initially closed, but the masked and socially distanced staff capitalized on the down time by rearranging the store’s layout, cleaning the carpets, and refreshing the shop’s look. Noting that some businesses arranged for purchases at entry ways without allowing customers inside, Madrid and her team developed a process so that The Book Place could partially reopen. 

“We had people pressing their noses on the windows wishing they could get inside,” Madrid said. “We posted our email address and phone on the door asking people for their requests, and we’d do our best to find the book for them.”

The staff filled grocery bags with books and would write “James Bond,” “cowboy novels” and other themes on them and lined them up in the windows. The shut-out customers would point to request a bag. A table blocked the store’s entrance and a staffer would provide customer service behind that table “sort of like when you’re picking up dry cleaning” with all honoring social distancing rules, Madrid said. Later in the pandemic, customers were allowed inside a few at a time while wearing masks. Currently many visitors are masking again with the new virus variations and medical uncertainties of 2024.

A strong holiday season helped The Book Place quite a bit, but it still hasn’t rebounded to pre-COVID popularity. January through March is usually a slow season but the rent and utilities must still be paid.

“I’d love to get more people back in, but it’s too easy to point and click,” she said. “One thing we like to say here is that nothing compares with taking time for yourself to hang out, browse, and buy something you didn’t expect to find. Some people come in saying they need a change from online shopping, and I just love that. Time and time again, I hear our volunteers tell someone, ‘We don’t have that book, but try this one.’ Customers find real personalized service, like receiving alerts when books that they’ve requested come into the store.”

The Book Place profits are a major funding source for the Friends of the Marin County Free Library which has allocated roughly $50,000 per year, to fund programs for teens and children, focuses assistance via Spanish-speaking outreach, adult lifelong learning, and free book giveaways at the Marin County Fair in partnership with First 5 Marin (aka the Children and Families Commission), and the Marin County Jail. The Book Place also donates books to the SF Veterans’ Hospital and Marin County Jail.

Stop by and browse around The Book Place at 1608 Grant Avenue, near 7th Street, then buy low-priced books that you have always wanted to read.

Originally posted to the Novato Patch: https://patch.com/california/novato/spirit-novato-award-goes-literacy-ambassador-barbara-madrid-nodx

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