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IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD : Little Tokyo: A Library Has Friends With Muscle

October 10, 1994

California public libraries are taking a budget beating--losing staff hours, subscriptions and book-purchase funds. But some are holding their own and in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, residents are even getting a brand new branch library, thanks to its Friends of Libraries group. Statewide, more than 600 Friends of Libraries groups, perhaps best known for holding bargain book sales, provide thousands of dollars in welcome relief. While their fund-raising, promotional and volunteer work is no substitute for sustained public funding, a Friends' group can be instrumental in maintaining and even expanding a community's library services. The 12-year effort of the Friends' group in the Little Tokyo neighborhood is a case in point.

WHAT FRIENDS DO

Generate donations of books, CDs and videos for resale at bargain sales. Use money raised to purchase items from wish list submitted by library staff.

Find sponsors for materials and equipment from local businesses and community members. Where possible arrange gifts of money with no strings attached. Purchase magazine or newspaper subscriptions for several years. Seek out such items as chairs, computers, carpeting, office supplies and plants as they're needed.

Bring political pressure. Write to city council, county board of supervisors and the state Legislature to tell them why a library is important in your community. Go to budget hearings and testify. Make appointments to visit officials and telephone them in their offices.

Volunteer and organize volunteers to perform money-saving tasks. Keep books in order on the shelves. Help publicize library programs. Repair books. Assist library users at the computerized card catalog.

FROM BOOKMOBILE TO BRICKS AND MORTAR

1977 Library service in Little Tokyo is limited to a weekly bookmobile visit. Community members form Friends of the Little Tokyo Public Library Services to support and increase service to the neighborhood.

1982-'88 Friends group begins a sustained campaign to establish a permanent branch library in Little Tokyo. They write to and meet with local officials, city council members and library commissioners. They canvass door-to-door to expand membership and generate community commitment to a local library branch.

1988 The Friend's Group wins agreement from the city library to establish a branch library in Little Tokyo on a trial basis for three years to determine if the community has the demand for a permanent facility.

1989 Experimental branch library opens with more than $35,000 of shelving, furniture and equipment purchased by the Friends group with accumulated donations and book-sale proceeds. Little Tokyo's Centenary United Methodist Church provides 2,400 square feet of rent-free temporary space.

1992 City library commissioners designate the Little Tokyo Branch Library as a permanent branch library and ask the city librarian to work with the Friends group to find it a permanent home.

1994 City Council authorizes leasing 5,000 square feet of space in the historic Neptune Building for the Little Tokyo Branch Library. Construction is expected to be completed early next year.

Measuring the Need

Little Tokyo received a new branch library after easily surpassing circulation requirements set by the Los Angeles Public Library.

1989-90

Minimum benchmark: 30,000

Actual circulation: 74,328

1990-91

Minimum: 50,000

Actual: 100,879

THE SECRET TO SUCCESS

Marion Kadomatsu, chairperson of the Friends Committee for Library Expansion and member of the Friends group since 1982, credits perseverance for the library's creation:

"When we began, we didn't know anyone who was influential or who had any money. Our organizing and fund-raising initially was from the grassroots--from ordinary people in the community. Today we have some corporate donations, but we still don't have the financial resources that many groups have. If you're committed and you don't give up, you can reach your goal."

Source: Friend of California Libraries

TO GET INVOLVED

Call Friends of California Libraries at (415) 749-0130 or reach them through e-mail at fclfolio@aol.com.

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