A Novel Resource : Largest Library Branch Taps World Wide Web, Long Shelves of Future


In 1968, it was just a patch of city-owned land in a quiet community called Sepulveda, a modest spot where officials hoped to build a grand satellite of downtown's historic Central Library.

That was the dream, but the reality was a different story. Lacking the money to build, the site was transformed temporarily into a soccer field as the years turned into decades.

Until now.

The dream becomes reality Friday morning when the Los Angeles Public Library opens the Mid-Valley Regional Branch Library, the city's 66th and largest branch. The $5-million facility is less ambitious than the original plan, but thanks to computer technology, patrons will be able to venture far beyond its walls via cyberspace, tapping into electronic databases hundreds or thousands of miles away.

"It's not just a bunch of novels," said Dan Dupill, the branch's senior librarian. "If [people] think that libraries are just collections of books, they're living in a world that's 50 years old."

When it opens its doors Friday, the branch at 16244 Nordhoff St. will offer a variety of services aimed at every age and interest, including access to the Internet, a "homework center" to assist children with after-school assignments, a permanent collection of Spanish-language materials and a staff fluent in not only Spanish but Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Hungarian and German.

"We cover a lot of languages," explained Cecilia Riddle, area manager for the library's West Valley region.

Additionally, the library contains a 100-seat multipurpose room that can be rented for community events, a tepee-shaped reading area for children and the headquarters for the Valley's bookmobile.

"Whoever you are, there's something here of value to you," Dupill said.

Funding for the branch arrived in 1988 with the passage of Proposition 85, a statewide bond act that earmarked $75 million for the construction and renovation of libraries throughout California. For Dupill, the result is more than just a showcase of emerging technologies, however. It's also a powerful symbol of community.

"This is a very special place," he said. "It's going to be a marvelous resource."

Children's librarian Lesley Alexander agrees.

"We're wanted here. We're needed here," she said, describing an outpouring of support from neighboring businesses and residents ever since workers broke ground on the site more than two years ago.

On Wednesday, the airy, 27,000-square-foot building was a noisy hive of activity as gray-haired volunteers and T-shirted technicians raced to prepare the library for its eagerly awaited opening, assembling everything from furniture to computers.

"It's a lot of things that the public doesn't see that need to be done," Alexander explained, noting that staff members and volunteers have shelved thousands of mostly new books since January. On opening day, the library will have 40,000 to 45,000 volumes available, roughly one-third of its total capacity.

Library spokesman Robert G. Reagan said the empty shelf space will allow the branch to expand its collection to fit the community's needs over the years, a point made by a giant mural that greets visitors as they enter.

"Libraries are not made; they grow," reads a quote from British essayist Augustine Birrell.

"It's going to be much more than it is now," Reagan said. "The objective is to serve all the people who live, work and come to the city of Los Angeles."

Alexander said that although she did not enjoy reading as a child, she's looking forward to the opportunity to inspire the library's younger visitors.

"You're sharing something with them that a lot of times their parents don't get to do," she said, recalling earlier jobs in the children's sections of branches in Hyde Park and Van Nuys. "I'm not going to be here forever but my impact will make a difference."

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