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Central Library: Check It Out : A surprise donation is a challenge to all Angelenos

A rather fabulous gift--part challenge grant--has put the Los Angeles Central Library--one of the jewels of the city--in the spotlight again. That’s good.

The $1-million donation--to defray some of the expense of improving the library--comes from philanthropist Mark Taper. Four years ago the historic Central Library was devastated by fires, more than 400,000 books needed to be replaced and modernization was urgently needed. Now the empty, still fire-damaged building at 5th and Flower streets is scheduled to reopen when a major $221-million expansion and restoration project is completed in 1993.

That will be a milestone, but more work will need to be done. A library is an ongoing learning laboratory, and learning all one needs to know in a place as diverse as Los Angeles can be an expensive proposition. Preschoolers are introduced to the Central Library, which is housed in temporary quarters at 433 S. Spring St., with puppet shows and story hours. Young adults are attracted to the video and audio collections.

Many users come simply for the joy of learning. Immigrants can learn English in the new Language Learning Center, which was funded by the Southern California Gas Co. They can use computer terminals, audiocassette decks, videocassettes and books available in 28 languages. They can also borrow from the extensive collection of foreign-language publications. Businesses also depend on the library. The patent collection, for instance, which was replaced after the fires, is heavily used.

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The Central Library circulated 800,000 books and answered 10 million reference calls in the year before the fires. After the arsons, generous corporations and individuals contributed to a special fund to replace the burned books. Additional donations will be needed to anticipate new multicultural demands, provide special programs and change from old paper services to new library technology. The Taper donation, in part a challenge grant, should encourage others to give.


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