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Library's True Worth Kept Under Cover : Underfunded facility, a center of opportunity for residents, could do much more for the community, senior librarian says.

October 09, 1994|ARTHUR POND | Arthur Pond, 39, is the senior librarian of the Hyde Park branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. His dream is to make his branch, which now suffers from lack of funds, poor visibility and little community awareness, a valuable and relevant part of the community. He was interviewed by Nancy Slate. and

There are two major things that make a difference in the lives of young people. One is reading, the other is involvement with an adult. Not necessarily a parent, just someone who cares and tries to be helpful. The public library is probably the only place in town where kids can get both.

In 1991, when I became senior librarian at Hyde Park Branch, we had the lowest circulation of any branch in the Los Angeles library system.

A lot of temporary staff people were passing through, which resulted in people not getting involved and finding out what was needed to turn things around. Even worse, we are at the end of a long, narrow lot, with apartment buildings on two sides and a parking lot in front. So we're not highly visible to people driving down Crenshaw.

I have a lot of ambitions for this branch, and since I came here, some very good things have happened. I've gotten a wonderful children's librarian and two other permanent librarians, so we are now fully staffed.

After the riots, one business donated money to buy a computer and printer. This computer is absolutely beloved by the community. Kids play the games, and a lot of people are coming in and making resumes, which is the kind of relevant service we are seeking to offer the community.

We've had wonderful people come in and do story hours. Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke read to the kids. And Thyme Lewis, one of the stars of "Days of Our Lives," read to them and told them how helpful the library had been to him as a child.

I want Hyde Park Branch to be a contributing part of the community, so I did some research into people's needs, how we could best meet them, and how to raise awareness of the library.

My first thought was to find my target group. It dawned on me, "Hey! None of our books on starting a business are ever in. So the group that needs our help most must be job-seekers and entrepreneurs." So we have taken to spending a chunk of our budget on books geared to starting a business. And those are being very heavily used. We hope we will facilitate new businesses.

Our next move probably will be sending out a letter introducing ourselves and explaining our goals to the Hyde Park business community, and seeing what kind of support we can build that way.

There's also a need to publicize the branch. Going through newspapers, radio and television hasn't been as reliable as we thought. So we'd like to hire a company that will drop a flyer on every doorstep in the area. It's not the cheapest way. We could use teen-age volunteers. But you don't send teen-agers out walking in south Los Angeles without worrying.

We also hope to provide folks with a reason to come to the library on a regular basis, in the hopes of creating a habit. Our entertainment-related programs have brought a bunch of people in. If we can find the funds, we'd like to have a program every week. Then, while people are here, we say, "Hi there. Why don't you let us help you with your homework" or whatever.

The other thing I'd like is to gear programs toward people's needs. Right now I'm trying to find people who will come in and talk about interview skills, resume development, things that are germane to job-seeking. The people of our community could help out with this. A business person, for example, could come in and talk about how he started his business and pitfalls to watch out for.

I have great ambitions for this branch. To fulfill them, we need a high level of community awareness, and a lot more funding. It would be nice if we could find a corporate sponsor, because I suspect they would have contacts that would help us. Working with smaller businesses would be great too.

I would like to have our Friends of the Library group solicit financial support and raise awareness. They can do this by speaking to groups such as churches, just saying, "Hello. We're your neighbor. If you come to the library, this is what we can do for you."

I would also like to have a larger building with a community room. We could then provide classes, meeting space for book groups and historical societies, and so many more groups. We're also working on money for a new sign, so people will know we're here.

Libraries are important to all of us. They improve our lives, keep kids in school and raise their educational level. They offer a place to come and learn and stay out of trouble.

Think about it--it's virtually impossible to get in trouble with a book in your hand. You'd have to hit somebody with it. Ultimately, we play a valuable role in making a more productive, less violent society. And in the end, that benefits us all.

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