Arts And Culture

'Second home': South LA library's offerings go beyond just books

Aug. 13, 2012, 3:24 p.m.

The Vernon branch of the Los Angeles Public Library is thriving, thanks in part to Measure L funding, said Ana Campos, the branch's acting senior librarian. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

As Arthur the Aardvark so catchily sang, "Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card."

At the risk of sounding somewhat corny, that's true on Central Avenue, too.

Perhaps to the surprise of some, the Vernon branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) is thriving, even in a time of brutal budget cuts. That's in part thanks to Measure L, says the branch's Acting Senior Librarian, Ana Campos, which voters approved in 2011, thus increasing the LAPL's share of existing city funds.

"We are in the process of hiring new staff because we're going to be open more hours," said Campos. "We are one of the few departments that's doing OK because of Measure L."

The Vernon branch does seem to be on the upswing – starting October 15, the library will be open four nights a week instead of two, and Fridays will be a full day instead of a half. The branch is also expecting new equipment – some laptops, a color printer and a projector – by the end of this year.

And, from the looks of the crowd that filled the library on Friday afternoon, it looks like it'll need it.

"We definitely have a lot of people that come in," said Campos. "A lot of kids with their parents. It's almost like their second home."

Right now, Campos and her staff are focusing on getting that home up to speed on technology and making it more available to the community, which oftentimes has little or no computer or Internet access.

"We're definitely working on keeping up with all the change," she said. "It's a work in progress. We're keeping up with all the technology and everything that's going on so we can stay relevant to the community."

In addition to providing computers that have Internet access, the library also offers free Wi-Fi, something which Campos says is heavily used. There's also the computer class she teaches every Tuesday and Thursday, from 4 to 5 p.m., which she says is "for the people that have never used a computer." That means learning how to use a mouse and keyboard, how to type and email basics.

"There's a lot of things we're working on as far as technology and I'm sure we'll have more soon," she said.

One of those things is Live Homework Help, says Campos, a little-known service LAPL offers that provides free online tutoring for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as adult learners. Users can do it from home with a library card, or at any computer in an LAPL branch.

Providing that kind of help is one of the things that Campos says drew her to the profession in the first place. She started out as a volunteer with the LAPL, and soon after was offered a position as a messenger clerk, which she held for nine years. She moved up to clerk typist, finished her Masters, worked as a children's librarian for two years, and has been acting senior librarian at Vernon for two-and-a-half years. That means she's in charge of the branch.

"I think our mission is to provide the services that are needed in our community," she said. "That could be entertainment, that could be information – we just have to try to meet those needs."

That's why Campos' job is so much more than maintaining and growing the book collection (she chooses and orders books for the library from a preselected list handed down from the downtown branch). She also does outreach and programming, which includes art classes for kids and teens, book clubs, book readings and some paid performers, like magicians.

There's also the odd question about citizenship and the U.S. citizenship test, which Campos particularly loves.

"You get that joy that you're helping, that you're making a difference," she said.

And then, of course, there are the books. Like every LAPL branch, Vernon has a special collection – theirs is on black history. Folks can also borrow DVDs and e-Media via the LAPL website. It's all part of the attempt, as Campos put it, to stay relevant.

"I would love to see people using the library more, coming to programs and taking advantage of what we offer," she said. "Because that's what we're here for."

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