10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their Neighborhoods
"We welcome everyone" read the signs you'll find at L.A. Public Library outposts right now. LAPL is affirming its commitment to diversity, but that has long been built into this behemoth system. There are more than 70 libraries that are part of LAPL, each with a distinct personality that is intimately tied to the neighborhood it serves. Collections and programming vary based on the neighborhoods' history, popular languages and other hyperlocal interests and concern. We stopped by 10 libraries to let you know what's inside.
1. Central Library
No matter where you live in Los Angeles, you need to visit Central Library. The main hub of the sprawling Los Angeles Public Library system holds a catalog so vast and diverse that even regulars here might feel they've only scratched the surface of the collections. At Central Library, you can learn a new language, study old maps, dive into genealogical research or check out art. It's home to the ALOUD series of lectures and performances as well as numerous other events. It's also a short walk from the Seventh Street/Metro Center station, so you can take a trip here without stressing over parking. This is the one L.A. library that everyone should visit, even if it seems out of the way for you. 630 W. Fifth St., downtown; lapl.org/branches/central-library.
2. Arroyo Seco Regional Library
Arroyo Seco Regional Library was built in 1914, thanks to a grant from Andrew Carnegie, although archival news stories featured on LAPL's site indicate that efforts to bring a library to Highland Park go back to the 1800s. The library was designed by architect Fredrick Ashley, who was one of the architects for Griffith Observatory, but the original building was torn down in 1959 as part of a voter-approved plan to expand the library system. While you could sigh at the thought of L.A. tearing down its history to rebuild, the resulting library building is quite stunning. It's a spacious, two-story building with ample seating and enough windows to fill the spaces with natural light. If you're looking for a spot on the northeastern side of the city that is quietly inspiring, come here. It's even open on Sundays. 6145 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park; lapl.org/branches/arroyo-seco.
3. Chinatown Branch Library
Chinatown's local library is easy to miss. It's tucked into a little nook of Hill Street right where you exit the neighborhood and head into downtown proper. If you're interested in any aspect of Chinese and/or Chinese-American culture, though, you should head here. The small library has a room housing its ample Chinese Heritage Collection. These are books written in English about a variety of different subjects. They include classic and modern Chinese literature in translation and novels by Chinese-American writers such as Amy Tan and Lisa See. Cookbooks, history books and a good-sized collection of movies are here, too. 639 N. Hill St., Chinatown; lapl.org/branches/chinatown.
4. John C. Fremont Branch Library
The John C. Fremont Branch Library has a remarkably tiny parking lot, but if you're not trying to get in or out of it, it's also a cute one that stands adjacent to a small courtyard filled with art made by Barbara Field with help from local students. LAPL's website notes that the library's roots are in a reading room that existed at Vine and Santa Monica more than a century ago. By 1927, the neighborhood had a library inside a then-new, Mediterranean-style building. This small library, which turns 90 on June 1, is considered a Historic Cultural Monument and has been upgraded to fit the needs of today's readers. Programming is plentiful here, but those who want to practice speaking French should note that a French conversation club meets here monthly. 6121 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; lapl.org/branches/john-c-fremont.
5. Lincoln Heights Library
Steel titan Andrew Carnegie spent the later years of his life donating oodles of money to fund libraries across the United States. Six such libraries were built in Los Angeles, but only three remain. Lincoln Heights Library is one of them. LAPL's website notes that the library's design is based on the Villa Papa Giulia, a 16th-century papal villa in Rome. The main floor of the library isn't massive but it's comfortable, with a decent number of computers available for use. The DVD section is fairly large and includes Vietnamese films. It also has a solid collection of manga. 2530 Workman St., Lincoln Heights; lapl.org/branches/lincoln-heights.
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