José Quiróz (left) and Felipe Rodríguez (right) play chess at Benjamin Franklin Library. Today’s libraries function as community centers as well as book repositories. / Photo by Jessica Perez
José Quiróz (left) and Felipe Rodríguez (right) play chess at Benjamin Franklin Library. Today’s libraries function as community centers as well as book repositories. / Photo by Jessica Perez

For Carlos Aldape, the three-hour train ride from UC Santa Barbara to his home in Boyle Heights has become a weekly ritual. His mother’s home-cooked meals are an enticement, as is the Robert L. Stevenson Branch Library, located just a few blocks from his childhood home.

Growing up, Aldape, 21, visited the branch every day after school. He completed homework assignments, checked out books for fun, and used the Internet.

“When I was young, my mom would always bring us here to get books or videos,” said Aldape, whose parents brought him to the United States from Mexico at the age of 12. “Going to the library improved my English skills, by reading a lot, checking books out, and speaking with adults,” said Aldape. “I would get the little kids books to learn English quickly.”

Even today, Aldape relies on the library’s free Internet access, since his parents cannot afford a home connection, and for a quiet place to do his homework and meet up with friends. “Without it, I don’t know,” he says.

Libraries today are much more than book storage vaults. They have become places of comfort and learning where residents congregate and interact. Loyal patrons gather to do homework, attend community events, and socialize.

The Los Angeles Public Library System is among the largest library systems in the nation, serving a population of about 3.8 million with a central library and 72 branches.

In Boyle Heights, the library supplements learning for those who attend school and serves as a school for those unable to attend one. Parents here often work long hours and lack the resources and language skills to help out more with their children’s homework. Free services offered by the Los Angeles Public Library are invaluable. Families also take advantage of free Internet and literacy and tutoring programs.

The branches in Boyle Heights have also become a center of community life and a great benefit to those who live here.

A Quiet Place for Chess
Felipe Rodriguez, 56, views his local Boyle Heights branch library, Benjamin Franklin, as a place of tranquility. During the day, he works with paintbrushes and rollers on construction jobs, but several evenings a week for the last eight years, he’s escaped from his daily routine by playing chess there. For Rodriguez, the game brings back memories of tutoring children in chess in Tlaxcala, Mexico more than 30 years ago. The people he plays with here have become friends over the years.

Rodriguez’s chess group consists of around a dozen people. While the group does not teach others to play, Rodriguez hopes to lead a small chess class similar to the one he hosted in Mexico. The library is a perfect spot for it, he says, since it is quiet, and people can play without being disturbed.

“To have a place like this is very educational,” says Rodriguez. “Here, there is always respect for everyone. One is in a pleasant place, and I find this agreeable.”

Many Boyle Heights library patrons are parents who want to help their children in school or simply wish to inculcate a love of learning. These parents often discover the library services by accident, but once they do, they make use of them frequently. Some parents lack mastery over English, and the library can guide them to resources for their children.

A Help for Immigrant Parents
Alma Barajas, for instance, brings her two daughters to “Grandparents and Books,” more commonly known as GAB, a free 30-minute child reading program at the Malabar Branch. She and her daughters arrive early to find a spot to sit. The children eagerly wait for the GAB volunteer who reads to them, practices phonics, and helps them learn new words. The young children participate enthusiastically in these exercises since they view them as games, not schooling. Barajas’ daughters practice their ABCs and learn to read five hours weekly. They are eager because they want to show off their new skills to their friends.

Barajas does not want her children to have the same difficulties as she does with English. “When I was little, we only spoke in Spanish, and it was difficult for me in school to speak English, to speak in front of the class,” Barajas said.

She has been bringing her children to her local branch for the past six months, and the library has become such a vital part of their lives that they become upset when they cannot go.

“They get angry,” said Barajas. “Sometimes we can’t come, and they want to come.”

Library Offers Services For All Ages and Skill Levels

The Los Angeles Public Library offers many services, including books, computers, DVD, and VHS lending and literacy programs. The three branches in Boyle Heights are:

Ӣ Benjamin Franklin, 2200 E. 1st Street; (323) 263-6901
Ӣ Malabar, 2801 Wabash Avenue; (323) 263-1497
Ӣ Robert Louis Stevenson, 803 Spence Street; (323) 268-4710

The hours are the same at all three branches: Closed Sunday. Open 10 a.m. -5:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday; 12:30-8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 1:30 – 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Each branch library has a meeting room that can be reserved. Besides providing traditional library services, local libraries often host special events and exhibits. Further information can be found at the Los Angeles Public Library Website:

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