Arturo was one of 12 inmates who browsed through the shelves of the Central Juvenile Hall's library one recent morning. While some were interested in science fiction and mystery paperbacks, the 17-year-old Arturo, born in Acapulco, picked two seemingly diverse books to check out: "La Casa de Snoopy" and the "Oxford Picture Dictionary of American English."
"I like Snoopy," the boy said in Spanish. "But I want to improve my English so I can get a job. I just need to study more."
Such comments, said Juvenile Hall librarian Frank Martinez, have been commonplace among the boys at the Lincoln Heights facility since the 7,000-volume library reopened last month, culminating a campaign by library officials to reopen the facility.
Closed by Budget Cuts
The library had been closed for 18 months as a result of cuts in the Los Angeles County budget.
The youths, for example, clamored recently for the privilege of checking out more books than the two they are currently allowed.
"Before the three-day holiday for Presidents' Day, they told me, 'I'll read anything. Let me take another book,' " Martinez said. "But I could only let each boy have two books. Maybe we'll change that to three soon."
Some of them would simply steal more books to be returned later by teachers, he added.
At the time of the library's closing, the wards, as county officials refer to the youthful inmates, joined library officials in trying to persuade the county Board of Supervisors to keep it open.
The wards wrote letters, but they were to no avail.
"It was down the list of priorities of things to save, but I kept it in the back of my mind," said county librarian Linda Crismond, whose department operates institutional libraries on a contract basis. "It was contrary to my philosophy that children need to learn early to use the library in order to be useful people in our society."
Effect on Students
Because most inmates stay at Juvenile Hall for less than a month, teachers had difficulty measuring the library's closure effect on the students.
But one teacher said her students' work did suffer.
"The kids could no longer actually do things . . . book reports or (learning about) the Dewey Decimal System," said Ruby Cormier Cebrun, a teacher at Juvenile Hall for three years. "They no longer had first-hand learning experiences. Now they look forward to coming here (the library)."
When Barry J. Nidorf succeeded Kenneth Kirkpatrick late last year as head of the county Probation Department, which runs Juvenile Hall, Crismond approached him about reopening the library.
"I was interested, but where was the money coming from?" Nidorf asked.
Nidorf scoured his department's $120-million annual budget and came up with $25,000 in uncommitted funds. County school officials, who run classes at Juvenile Hall, chipped in $20,000.
"We were really happy when the money was found to reopen," Crismond said.
Still Needs Money
But while $45,000 was enough to reopen the library for six months, the facility could fall victim to budget cuts again, county officials admit.
Nidorf and Crismond are unsure whether $60,000 can be found to keep the library open for the 1985-86 fiscal year. And county department heads, already warned to hold the line against increasing costs, have been told to brace for more budget cuts when the fiscal year begins July 1.
But Juvenile Hall officials prefer not to think about that for now.
Instead, they point out that Martinez, who volunteered for the Juvenile Hall job after seven years at the City Terrace County Library in East Los Angeles, is busy readying a library for Juvenile Hall's female population. It is is due to open next month.