Los Angeles County's Graham Library, in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone area, dates to 1915, but when Supervisor Gloria Molina first saw it in its present location, it was an unsightly building, its walls topped with barbed wire.
On Thursday, it was rededicated after a $623,000 renovation. The barbed wire is gone, colorful murals by Bolivian artist Mario Cespedes now lend it a festive air, and its bilingual character has made it a community center for the heavily immigrant neighborhood it serves.
Los Angeles County librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd said the main challenge is convincing residents "the library is really free and everyone can use it. For so many, there was no such thing as a public library where they came from."
The favored tactic is to distribute library cards to the 1,300 students of Graham Elementary School across the street. Once they start using the library after school and on Saturdays, it usually is not too long before their parents come too, librarians said.
Second-graders from the school were guests at the rededication ceremony Thursday at the facility at 1900 E. Firestone Blvd., and one of them, Ana Contreras, even was a speaker.
"It's nice to come to the library," the little girl told the crowd of more than 100 people. "I like the new books and computers."
And there are plenty of those. The collections total 45,900 books, 7,750 audiovisual items, and 60 magazine and newspaper subscriptions, some in English and some in Spanish.
Kathy Rulla, principal of the school, said her students love the library because it is now "beautiful, comfortable and clean."
Molina, speaking in English and Spanish, extolled the "partnership with the community" that she said has made the new library a success. With more than 55,000 items in circulation in the last year, the branch has logged 6,800 customers using the Internet and 12,150 questions answered by the staff.
Altogether, attendance at the library, which is open five days a week, was 49,300 from July 2000 to June.
Todd said the Los Angeles County Library system, third-largest in the country after two in New York, has 84 branches plus four bookmobiles. It has more facilities than the Los Angeles city library, but its annual budget, now $77 million, is smaller.
The Graham Library's catalog provides access to more than 7 million items from the countywide library collections.
Molina noted that when the county has budget shortfalls, it is often the libraries and parks that suffer cutbacks first, which she said she finds regrettable.
The costs of the Graham Library renovation and of those proceeding elsewhere comes out of property taxes.