After debating whether the project would isolate or help assimilate residents of Armenian descent, the Glendale City Council this week authorized library officials to seek federal funds to establish an Armenian resource center at the city's central library.
The five-member council voted unanimously to apply for a one- to two-year grant of $258,340 to create the Hye Neighbor Project, a collection of Armenian- and English-language books, video and audiotapes and other materials that primarily would serve Glendale's 45,000 residents of Armenian descent.
Hye means "Armenian" in Armenian, officials said.
But some council members warned that the project--which would include a "welcome center" and referral service to help immigrants learn about library and social services--might cause other ethnic groups to feel ignored.
The council said the project also might stir resentment among non-ethnic residents who might perceive the services as a step away from the city's goal of assimilating its immigrant population.
"We're going to want regular, regular updates," said Mayor Ginger Bremberg, who said she has received several complaints about the proposal. "There's a lot of bigotry in this community against a great many nationalities. Favoring one will probably trigger a response from all the others."
Library administrators told Bremberg that they did not want to create a "separatist library," but rather establish a tool to draw more Armenians to local libraries and help them learn English.
"The library is a neutral place, serving all people," said Susan Curzon, director of libraries. "We hope to help people begin the long road of assimilation with this grant."
The grant application must be submitted by Monday to the State Library, which administers funds from the federal Library Services and Construction Act. A response from the state is expected within several months, Curzon said.
The city would supply an extra $57,620 in "soft money," such as utilities, space and equipment. When the grant for start-up money runs out, expected after one or two years, the program could be incorporated into regular library operations, Curzon said.
The money would be used to buy various materials, including about 6,000 books on Armenian culture in Armenian and English, audiotapes and videotapes to help immigrants learn English and learn about library and city services, and a computer system to publish brochures and other publications in Armenian, Curzon said.
Most of the materials would be set up in a special section in the central library at 222 E. Harvard St. The books would be shelved in the library's existing foreign-language collection, Curzon said.
The cities of Burbank, Pasadena and Los Angeles would also participate in the project by sharing materials and information but would not contribute money, Curzon told the City Council.
The Glendale Public Library has about 10,000 books in foreign languages. About 4,000 are in Spanish, while about 615 are in Armenian, said Ani Boyadjian, a librarian.
Councilman Larry Zarian, who is of Armenian descent, said he strongly supported the grant application because the resource center would encourage immigrants to learn about the library system and other American programs.
"I think we're making this issue an ethnic issue more than it really is," Zarian said. "If it's going to help the assimilation process, if it's going to help open the doors, I'd like to get the money."
But Bremberg and Councilman Carl Raggio said they were concerned that other ethnic groups, such as Latinos and Asians, would be excluded and would be resentful about a project designed mainly for one group.
Curzon told the council that library officials targeted Armenian needs because of the growing population, and because the state is more likely to approve a grant proposal addressing a specific group.
"There was an overwhelming need, when you consider 45,000 people with 615 books," Curzon said. "All sections of the community have needs, but this population had the most."
The library also is applying for another $35,000 grant in federal money administered by the state to buy at least 6,000 more foreign language titles, including a large number of books in Korean, she said.