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She turned her Glendale home into a public library of Japanese literature

Mitsuko Roberts
Mitsuko Roberts, of Glendale, established a library in her home in the Verdugo Woodlands neighborhood for the public, free of charge.
(Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press)

A good book should never go unread.

So when Mitsuko Roberts began going through the many tomes in her Glendale home and tallied at least 200 Japanese books, it bothered her that so many were sitting on the shelf, unappreciated. Many had come from Japan, mailed to her from her mother who lives in Tokyo, where Roberts was born and raised.

“I was thinking, this is such a shame,” she said of the unread words.

Soon, she was telling other parents of students enrolled in Verdugo Woodlands Elementary — where three of her children attend — about her unused books.

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Some parents expressed similar feelings about Japanese books collecting dust in their homes, so they decided to pool their books and open a library.

And thus the Okanoue Library was born a little more than a year ago. After reviewing hundreds of titles, Roberts and her friends selected 300 and opened the library in May 2015.

A few times a month, Roberts welcomes guests to her home so they can peruse the offerings and check out books and DVDs to return later.

Okanoue Library has grown. It’s now equipped with a catalog of 700 items, including fiction and nonfiction books, DVDs and comic books for young and older students.

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Roberts, who worked with Glendale school officials several years ago to establish the dual-language Japanese program at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary, is a huge proponent of bilingual education.

She said the library is a way to provide more access to students to expand their familiarity with speaking, reading and writing in Japanese.

“This library is a product of our thought, our intention, in increasing Japanese literacy,” Roberts said.

Fellow parent Soonja Bin, who often donates books to the collection and volunteers to run it, said the library has become an important local resource.

“It really helps in providing that supplemental literature that would otherwise be unavailable in the local area,” Bin said. Whenever she’s in Gardena, she visits Book-Off, where she can find some books in good condition discounted to 50 cents a title, and she’ll purchase several to donate to Okanoue.

The library’s name came out of one of the early meetings Roberts had with fellow parents.

“One of the moms accidentally said, ‘The library on top on the hill,’ ” Roberts recalled. “Okanoue” translates to “hilltop,” and Roberts liked the name immediately because her home is just “over the hill” from Verdugo Woodlands Elementary.

When Roberts opens the library — twice a month, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday — her husband will lug two heavy book carts into their front yard, and they’ll set up tables and chairs for adults and children as well as pop up large umbrellas to provide shade to read under.

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Roberts also enlists older students to read to younger ones. When she sees young children listen to an older student read, she knows the library is worth the effort.

“It’s really refreshing to see the kids really enjoy it,” she said. “It makes me very, very happy.”

kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Corrigan writes for Times Community News.

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