Downey remains at center of L.A. County library world

DOWNEY − Last Saturday, Downey became the center of the County of Los Angeles Public Library volunteer community as representatives from nearly 80 groups supporting libraries throughout the county gathered at a packed Rio Hondo Event Center for the 2014 Annual “Friends of the Library Exchange.” Hosted by County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd and Volunteer Programs Director Jim Allred, the event provided Friends of the Library leaders with an update on the Library’s Strategic Plan and provided an opportunity for information sharing with a number of display boards from Friends groups throughout the county.

“Your support of public libraries is absolutely essential,” Ms. Todd told the volunteers.  “You are the heartbeat of the library in your local community.”

Although the city of Downey has its own library, including outstanding Friends of the Library and Library Advisory Board groups, the massive County of Los Angeles Library system is also headquartered in Downey.

In addition to their Downey Library card, local residents may also get a free County Library card that provides access to millions of books as well as magazines, newspapers, videos, music CDs and government publications.  The system is a technical marvel, making available many free eBooks, music downloads, streaming videos, online databases and even a mobile app.

“Although the County Library system has 85 regional and community libraries, an institutional library and three bookmobiles, it really operates as a single system that provides access to its immense collection to anyone who holds a County Library card,” said Rosemary Hook, President of the Friends of the La Canada Flintridge Library.  “It’s amazing how well this incredibly diverse system works.  It’s a great joy to be part of the more than 6,000 Friends of the Library volunteers throughout the County Library network who enhance library resources throughout the community.”

Officials pointed out that there are a number of County Libraries in communities near Downey, including Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Lakewood, Norwalk, Paramount and South Gate.

A library card provides much more than just the ability to check out materials from local collections.  It also allows individuals to:

•  place holds and access their account online

•  remotely access library databases

•  download audiobooks, eBooks, and music

•  use the Library’s public computers and Internet

•  connect to wireless Internet at all County Libraries

A decade ago, the conventional wisdom maintained that libraries were a dying breed.  But as epitomized by the Downey Library and the County of Los Angeles Public Library system, libraries in Los Angeles County are becoming more relevant today in a multitude of ways that matter to customers of all ages and backgrounds.

For example, the County Library has one of the most vibrant social media operations of any library system on the planet, with Susan Broman and Mary Yogi of its Adult and Digital Services division leading the way.  They presented a lively discussion on “Navigating the World of Social Media” at Saturday’s event where they described the two-way communication the library system has created and nurtured using applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

This forward-looking approach is encompassed in the County Library’s Strategic Plan, which is designed to give people the freedom to connect, explore and create—whatever their needs or dreams.  This is a tall order, yet the library system is committed to providing platforms for both traditional learning and what it calls “unexpected collisions of creativity”.

The plan includes eight initiatives for the future, including:

1.         Telling the Library Story: Improving the way the library tells its customers about the wide range of available programs and services.

2.         Affirming the Library as a Center for Learning: Addressing communities’ learning and literary needs through classes, events, and online technology.

3.         Expanding and Supporting the Digital Library: Adding more digital content and making it easier to find and use, as well as expanding mobile access.

4.         Transforming the Role of Library as Place: Increasing the role of the library in the community and other services beyond the library’s walls.  This means customizing each library to the community it serves.

5.         Supporting and Cultivating the Community’s Creativity: Introducing collaborative work spaces to learn new tools and technologies or share a creative hobby or interest.

6.         Developing the Library as a Center for Community Engagement: Collaborating with the community’s cultural groups and broadening the library’s leadership role as a trusted source for equal access to information.

7.         Developing a Staff Prepared for the Future: Improving the library experience by developing the library staff’s leadership and technology skills.

8.         Ensuring the Financial Health of the Library: Managing the library budget wisely and seeking new funding sources to bring more services to Los Angeles County communities

Accomplishing this ambitious plan won’t be easy, but Ms. Todd’s team is determined to continue to move the library experience forward by collaborating with key constituencies such as those who attended last Saturday’s Friends of the Library Exchange event in Downey.

After the County Library was established in 1912, its first 100 years of growth and service was remarkable by any measure.

Yet today, it is positioned even more strongly for its Second Century as its visionary leaders, talented staff, and Friends of the Library members and other volunteers lead the way toward fulfilling the needs and dreams of the more than 3.5 million people it serves.



Published: April 24, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 02