When your job is to oversee the country’s largest and most diverse public library system, no two days are the same. City Librarian John Szabo is marking his third anniversary at the Los Angeles Public Library this fall, and he’s made it his mission to stay personally connected to the frontline of the Library and the work of his staff at Central Library and each of the 72 branches. Here’s how he connects throughout the day.
Szabo kicks off the special exhibit No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station.
Before I get out of bed in the morning, I’m looking at e-mail to get ahead of the messages. I read the L.A. Times digitally for the news, and then I consume lots of coffee.
Off to City Hall
An interesting first meeting I recently had was at City Hall over an initiative of the Mayor’s that builds on the work the Library has already been doing on citizenship and naturalization. The mayors of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have jointly launched “Cities for Citizenship,” which emphasizes the importance of citizenship, including the economic impact of it. At this meeting, the Mayor’s office convened multiple nonprofits around the table to work with us in this space of citizenship, which the Library is very much at the center.
Szabo talking to City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and staffer.
Poetry Before Noon
One late morning back at Central Library, the Mayor stopped by to announce Luis Rodríguez as our new Poet Laureate of L.A. Although we do so much great programming around poetry from the teen poetry slams to the ALOUD programs bringing in poet laureates of the United States, this occasion was particularly significant for us because the poet Luis Rodríguez has a long and wonderful relationship with the Los Angeles Public Library. We will so be looking forward to the year ahead with him and his poetry programs for children, teens, and adults.
For lunch, I might grab a salad and eat it at my desk as I prepare for an upcoming board meeting. At our next board meeting, we are accepting a generous gift from the Friends of the Library Group and we are discussing the strategic plan for the Library. Being at the Central Library, it’s easy to go in and out and see our staff and pop into The Library Store and do a little shopping—I absolutely love anything “hardcore library.” I recently got a pair of library card socks and the library card iPhone case. I bought my partner a fantastic grilled cheese cookbook.
At Central, we also have our big staff meetings in the Taper Auditorium with all 72 branch managers. I particularly enjoy seeing everyone from Eagle Rock to San Pedro together in one place, and I love the one-on-one conversations afterwards to hear what’s happening in the communities and with our very big staff.
Also at Central Library, I might have a meeting with the community health councils to talk about our “Know Your Digits,” campaign, which is occurring in seven of our branch libraries as part of our “Health Matters” initiative. We are trying to leverage the physical presence of libraries as trusted, valued institutions to fight health issues and disparities in particular areas of Los Angeles with high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease by helping people get screened.
Dreams Come True
Once in awhile, I’ll have a meeting cancel that will free up my afternoon, so over the last two years I use this time to go out and visit branches. I’ve now visited 65 of the 73 branches—only 8 left to go! I absolutely love going out and visiting our branches because every single one is different—they are different architecturally, the staff is different, the collections are different, the services are different—and all are uniquely positioned to serve their community. The branches are always packed with families or some kind of children’s program like “Storytime.” Recently, I visited the Platt Branch in the West Valley and I got to see an English language study course in action—students from Korea and Guatemala and Mexico and Croatia. It’s the dream of the City Librarian to see these wonderful scenes happening over and over at each branch.
Szabo at the 2014 Book Drop Bash with authors T.C. Boyle and Mona Simpson.
My assistant and I are usually in the office until at least six or a little after, and then there’s often evening meetings or events. Sometimes it’s something at City Hall or a Library Foundation event. I love being the “library guy” and representing the Los Angeles Public Library 24-7-365.
When I get home, if I have time, I do some reading. I’m an only child and my dad is a single parent, so my father and I are best friends. He lives in Montgomery, Alabama and is retired, and ever since I went off to college at 18, he has sent me clippings in the mail of interesting things to read. I, as I’m able, do the same. In the evening, it’s a real pleasure and treasure to read through what he’s sent.
Learn more about all the initiatives of the Los Angeles Public Library here.