L.A. County library system celebrates its centennial

NORWALK - The Los Angeles County public library system headquarters, which is located at 7400 Imperial Hwy. in Downey, has provided promotional materials and other tools to its branches all across the county to mark its 100th birthday but the wherewithal of celebrating its centennial this year is up to the individual branch.Here at the 33,749-sq.ft. Norwalk Regional Library on 12350 Imperial Hwy., the celebration will consist of cake, "exciting" presentations, and "lots of fun." Over at the 6,000-sq. ft. Alondra Library on 11949 Alondra Blvd., which from its formation in 1970 has emphasized Norwalk's Mexican-American heritage and culture, the celebration will not be much different, with cake, balloons, and art activities for children. The celebrations at both venues are scheduled from 1-3 p.m. on Sept. 8. Among the activities planned at the Alondra Library will be a giant pop-up birthday card which guests and visitors will be asked to sign. Library manager Sue Kane says the library is at the same time gathering photos from the local community, say, five to a family, which can then be scanned and digitalized and projected on a big screen, probably set up in a montage and presented as a community photo gallery . Old photos that may be lying around the house, preferably photos with a little historical significance, are good, she says. The photos will be returned. At any rate, there is much to celebrate. Norwalk Regional Library is said to be one of the oldest libraries in the county public library system, "opening as the 17th branch in 1913 (the county public library was established only the year before, in 1912) with a collection of just 500 books; one hundred years later, the library now contains a collection of more than 150,000 books." Kane says photographs from the past 100 years are currently on display at the library. She says the county system has always practiced a fiscally conservative policy and for this reason, Norwalk Regional and Norwalk libraries have not suffered any cuts to its programs in the face of economic dislocations that have deeply affected other libraries elsewhere. The only negative note, she says, was the adoption two years ago of a 4-day week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday) instead of the more palatable five. Even so, she continues, "We've seen small demographic changes beginning last year that are bringing in Koreans and Vietnamese to the community. We border one of the most linguistically diverse zip codes (90701) in the country. Of course you're aware of the fact that as the economy tanks, people use libraries more-they use the computers to find jobs, learn new careers, etc. Among our newer services also is the library's Homework Help Center, to assist 2nd to 6th graders." The county public library system's Californiana Collection can only be found here. The collection is described as consisting of over 24,000 books and over 200 magazine and newspaper titles in paper and on microfilm as well as a collection of state documents including state and county budgets. The goal of the collection is to present a complete picture of the history, culture, environment and artistic expression of the people of California and to some extent, the western United States, according to the county library. Some of its more interesting items include materials on the Donner Party, California water projects, famous California crimes, Hollywood culture, biographies of Californians, pioneer narratives of the early days of California, and histories of the state written over the course of 150 years. It's a favorite among researchers, says Kane. In a larger context, the county public library system's website says it's one of the major libraries in the nation, and provides library service to over 3.5 million residents living in unincorporated areas and to residents of 51 of the 88 incorporated cities of Los Angeles County. The service area extends over 3,000 square miles. Supplementing the 7.5 million volume book collection, the library also offers magazines, newspapers, government publications and many specialized materials including online databases. Its mission has always been to provide "our diverse communities with easy access to the information and knowledge they need to nurture their cultural exploration and lifelong learning." And what is a library without its Friends? Kane says that, because there have been so many good books, so many quality donations to Norwalk Regional library in the past months, the Friends of the Norwalk Library have advanced their annual Book Sale from November to September 29, with the usual pre-sale on September 27. "It helps that the mayor and the Norwalk City Council are very supportive of our two libraries," Kane says. "What's more, our services are free-one of the best things about democracy."

********** Published: August 23, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 19