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.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

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.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

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.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

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.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

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.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

6. Little Tokyo Branch Library
If you like reading manga in Japanese, head over to the Little Tokyo Branch Library. You'll find lots here, from kid-friendly titles to grown-up fair to the latest issues of Japanese comics magazines. Little Tokyo's selection of Japanese books and media, both in Japanese and in English, is so much fun to explore. A recent trip turned up everything from Zatoichi films to photo books documenting the work of fashion designers Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto to a CD from idol group AKB48. 203 S. Los Angeles St., downtown; lapl.org/branches/little-tokyo.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

7. Memorial Branch Library
Located across from Los Angeles High School, Memorial Branch Library came to be as a result of a donation from the student body. LAPL's website notes that the land was given to the city in memory of 20 former students who died in World War I. Memorial Branch Library, which opened in 1930, sits in the middle of a park. It's a small but lovely brick building that features beautiful stained-glass windows. All libraries are family-friendly, but considering both the location of this park and the amount of kid-centric material inside this library, Memorial Branch seems like a particularly good place to take your youngsters. 4635 W. Olympic Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; lapl.org/branches/memorial.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

8. Mid-Valley Regional Library
At certain angles, usually when you're darting down Nordhoff, the Mid-Valley Regional Library looks like a submarine. It's a strange, yellow and blue building with small, circular windows on the side and sail-like pieces sticking out of the top — that makes it one of the more intriguing library buildings in the city. This is a fairly large library that's split between an area for kids and one for adults. The grown-up side includes books in English, Spanish, Korean, Russian and Chinese. The library also is home to a Veterans Resource Center and a used-book store. There's a field behind the building, making it an ideal place to check out a book and read outside. Mid-Valley Regional Library is open seven days a week. 16244 Nordhoff St., North Hills; lapl.org/branches/mid-valley.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

9. Frances Howard Goldwyn Regional Library
The Frances Howard Goldwyn Regional Library on Ivar is exactly what you would expect for a Hollywood library named for an actress who married a producer. In other words, if you're doing research on film or television, you might want to start here. Old photos of actors decorate the library, but the eye-catchers are massive pieces of movie poster art advertising Theda Bara in Salome and Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik. The reference section includes copies of the Academy Players Directory from the 1980s and '90s, which is fun if you want to see very dated headshots of the famous and forgotten. (Even more amusing, you might find some of their child actor headshots.) There are volumes of New York Times theater reviews and Variety obituaries. The collections here are extensive. For more information, check the library's website. 1623 N. Ivar Ave., Hollywood; lapl.org/branches/hollywood.

10 of L.A.'s Best Libraries and How They Rep Their NeighborhoodsEXPAND
Liz Ohanesian

10. Cahuenga Branch Library
Cahuenga Branch Library (named for the Native American tribe, not the street) is steeped in history. One of L.A.'s Carnegie libraries, this small and lovely building has marble in the lobby, large arched windows and lots of historical photos. The library's website gives a lot of insight into the history of this library and how it has worked to significantly improve the lives of those in the community. Much of that history explores how immigration and changing demographics prompted the library to rethink its work. You can see that on the shelves, where books are available in English, Spanish, Armenian and Russian, and in the programming, which includes a bilingual family book club as well as English conversation and writing classes. There is some interesting teen programming here, too, such as an introduction to tarot and a Harry Potter–themed candy-making class. It was listed on our Red Line things-to-do list last year, and it makes this one too because it's a worthwhile library to visit. 4591 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood; lapl.org/branches/cahuenga.

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