East Los Angeles Library becomes the heart of community

By Jiawei Wang

While most old libraries struggle to attract patrons today, the East Los Angeles Public Library branch has remained the heart of its community.

Even on a Friday afternoon, the East Los Angeles Public Library buzzed with activity: every study room was occupied, students worked on computers and more than a few people were reading actual books.

Behind the books and information services desk, Gaby Buenrostro, a librarian of the branch, said that the library has increasingly become community spaces, where more and more people congregate to use the computer, or students come to ask help for their homework.

The library was established on May 1, 1932, with a small collection of books in the corner of a local store. It was moved to the East Los Angeles Civic Center in 2004. Now the library not only offers expanded services and collections, but also supplies 24 public computers, two early literacy computers, three express computers, as well as free Wi-fi.

Children are using computer in children computer-using area in East Los Angeles Library. Oct 10, 2014.

Tony Gonzalez, 45 years old, is one of the patrons who come to the library to use the computer. Because he doesn't have a computer at home, he comes to the library five times a week, and uses the computer about two hours a day.

"I like to use the computer to research about housing construction," said Gonzalez, "Sometimes the librarian will help me navigate the Internet. They are providing a great service here and it's very helpful."

Library usage has increased across the country, said Buenrostro. This is because libraries have increased the availability of technology and other benefits to the community, including live homework help, free workshops and a family-friendly environment.

Family area in East Los Angeles Library provides a place for family members to hang out. Oct 10, 2014.

The architecture of the East Los Angeles Public Library was also carefully designed to appeal to the outside community. The building uses glass walls to attract onlookers, provides comfortable seating, and allows food and drink. The pavement at the entrances wall and the lobby wall designs also adopt a Mayan theme, reflecting the astronomical pattern in the Mayan Culture and Art.

David Rodriguez, a web designer working in east LA, came to the library to work on his project.

"I don't use computers in the library or read books here. I only work on my own laptop," said Rodriguez. "I like the environment here, because everyone around me is reading. I'm more productive when I work here."

The library also provides mini-conference rooms that offer private, quiet spaces, and are frequently reserved by teenagers needing space to collaborate over group projects.

Jacqueline Cano, a senior of Monterey Senior High School, likes to come to the library to work on homework and group projects after school.

"I can get very distracted at home because the TV is very loud and my brothers run around, but here I can even have a whole study room to myself or with my friends," Cano said.

Jacqueline Cano uses the mini-conference room studying SAT with her classmates. Oct 10, 2014.

The library also offers book discussion sessions, parent and child workshops, film screenings and discussions, and even basic Word2010 trainings.

Some other libraries around the country offer even more creative programs for patrons. The Lopez Island Library in Washington State offers musical instruments for checkout. In upstate New York, the Library Farm in Cicero lends out plots of land on which patrons can learn organic growing practices.

"The library is a third space, besides home, work or school, where you come because it is the center of the community," Buenrostro said. "There is no replacement for the public library in its value to society."

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