Bridging the Digital Divide One Library Patron at a Time

With our ever-growing reliance on technology to navigate our daily lives, it’s shocking to hear that one-third of Angelenos still do not have Internet at home. As millions turn to the Los Angeles Public Library for free access to computers, the Internet, wireless access, eBooks, eMusic, and eEverything, simply getting to a computer is only solving part of the problem. For those who are inexperienced or uncomfortable using technology, the Library Foundation supports the Cybernauts program, offering personal concierge-like technology assistance to Library users of all ages.

“What’s great about the Cybernauts program, is that it puts learning into play,” says Karen Gavidia, an enthusiastic Cybernaut at the Exposition Park branch, pictured below. “It’s about teaching and keeping patrons updated on technology that is constantly changing and piquing their interest about what’s out there.” Cybernauts are savvy at providing help on a range of issues—from creating email accounts, using word processing and photo sharing programs, to filling out job applications and tax forms. “Teaching a lot of basic things has a long term impact on how people use technology,” explains Gavidia.

Like many of the Cybernauts, Gavidia is from the community she serves and has become a welcoming face in her neighborhood branch. “I used to be a regular patron and a lot of patrons feel more comfortable coming in and asking questions because they recognize me and I can speak Spanish with them.” Bryan Bazalar, another bilingual Cybernaut and nearby resident of his Panorama City branch, considers himself lucky to be a part of such an inspiring program, which was partially conceived as a way to offer meaningful job training to young adults. He’s currently getting his Masters in Library Science and loves the everyday challenges of problem solving.

“The Internet is not always a clear solution, so I enjoy sitting down with a patron and getting their whole story, and then helping try to solve their issues,” says Bazalar. In his branch, he manages the Student Zones where he helps students with research—teaching students how to use online search engines and find information beyond cursory sites like Google and Wikipedia. But he also has noticed a lot of basic questions arising from students and adults alike on keyboarding issues, so he began offering a weekly keyboarding class to address these needs.

“The biggest benefit that I see patrons get from our coaching is confidence, and that’s very important to overcome fears of using the Internet,” says Bazalar. This year, the Cybernaut program expanded to 32 neighborhood branches as well as Central Library thanks to the generous supporters of the Library Foundation.

As part of the Library’s mission to provide free access to ideas and information, these innovative programs are also empowering individuals through technology supported by the Library Foundation:

  • Full STEAM AheadA fun, integrated science, technology, engineering, art, and math program that sparks the imagination, and develops perseverance, problem-solving, and self-confidence. The Library is collaborating with a number of partners, such as Los Angeles Makerspace, Iridescent, Nine Dots, and The Exploratory, to teach workshops in areas like computer programming, electronics and robotics, 3D modeling and printing, animation, filmmaking, and more.
  • Live Homework Help—A free online tutoring service that offers one-on-one help with math, science, social studies, English, and Spanish to students in Kindergarten through first-year college as well as adult learners.
  • Student Zones—Offering teens and children access to dedicated computers, equipment, and furniture during the after-school hours, including the free use of books, subscription databases, printing, school supplies, trained personnel, and other learning resources.
  • Adult Literacy—Committed to breaking the cycle of low literacy in our community, Adult Literacy Services help adults with English literacy skills below a sixth grade level to improve their reading and writing proficiency through one-on-one tutoring as well as self-directed, online practice.

Learn more about these technology initiatives at and




Jeff Bridges, Anne Lamott and Others Join ALOUD this Winter

Do you find yourself quoting The Big Lebowski in casual conversation or humming Mahler in the shower? ALOUD’s winter season promises not to disappoint with an exciting and eclectic line-up of filmmakers, actors, authors, musicians, scientists, religious and political leaders, and more, taking part in the Library Foundation’s yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. Here’s a round-up of what’s to come, and you can visit for more info and tickets.

Kick-off the New Year with these special film events:

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. Image by Alan Kozlowski.

Thursday, January 10, ALOUD welcomes screen legend Jeff Bridges and world-renowned Zen teacher Bernie Glassman to the Aratani/Japan America Theatre for an enlightening and entertaining conversation between student and teacher on their new book, The Dude and the Zen Master, co-presented by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

Thursday, January 24, film critic and KCRW host Elvis Mitchell talks to writer, poet and playwright Nick Flynn on the surreal process of adapting his memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, into a film called Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro as his father.

Tuesday, January 29, actor, director and activist Diego Luna visits on the occasion of his new feature about Cesar Chavez to discuss the power of storytelling as an agent for social change.

Span the globe with these groundbreaking international stories:

Artwork from Gallery Monin.

Tuesday, January 15, days after the third anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, veteran journalist Amy Wilentz reports on the uncanny resilience of the country that emerged like a powerful spirit from the dust of the 2010 disaster.

Monday, February 11, internationally-renowned radiation expert Dr. Robert Peter Gale and writer Eric Lax correct myths and establish facts about life on our radioactive planet in our post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.

Women who wow us:

Monday, December 10, best-selling author and activist Anne Lamott converses with Father Gregory Boyle about the three prayers that she believes can illuminate the way forward: Help, Thanks, Wow.

Thursday, February, 21, journalist and The End of Men author Hanna Rosin, Ms. Magazine Executive Editor Kathy Spillar, imMEDIAte Justice co-founder Tani Ikeda, and Feminist Women’s Health Center co-founder Carol Downer join primatologist and Darwinian feminist Dr. Amy Parish for a multi-generational look at feminism and women’s rights today in light of the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique.

Homegrown in California:

Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Wheaton residence, Brentwood, CA, 1958. Photo by Maynard Parker.

Thursday, December 13, the newly created LA Grand Ensemble makes its public premiere, blending theatrical and artistic elements for a contemporary and new classical music experience including a reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.4.

Thursday, January 17, photography curator Jenny Watts of The Huntington, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, and author and historian D.J. Waldie gather to discuss influential photographer Maynard L. Parker, who aimed his lens at the mid-century masterworks of L.A. architects in Cold War California.

Saturday, February 9, ALOUD partners with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to present its annual afternoon chamber music concert.

Tuesday, February 26, former mayor of San Francisco and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom joins acclaimed local journalist Patt Morrison onstage for Citizenville: Connecting People and Government in the Digital Age.

And last but not least, a new iteration of the “Writing and the Art of Not Knowing” musings:

Wednesday, February 6, writers George Saunders and Bernard Cooper discuss how they grapple with the difficult, but essential challenges of their creative work with moderator Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

We hope you’ll join us this season! Free reservations are strongly recommended for ALOUD at Central Library programs, and tickets can be purchased for the LA Grand Ensemble and An Evening with Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman via


Young Literati Raise a Glass and Awareness for the Los Angeles Public Library

If the idea of roaming about a library after hours with a glass of champagne and a donut sounds like a dream, then the Young Literati’s Fifth Annual Toast may have been a dream come true. Last Saturday night, some of the most spirited supporters of the Library Foundation gathered at the Central Library to celebrate the Los Angeles Public Library, and to “bridge the divide” by raising funds for new technology in the branch libraries.

After kicking-off the party in the Rotunda, where there was not one, but two seesaws for partygoers to embrace the library as their playground, guests moved into the Getty Gallery for readings and performances by an all-star lineup. Rachel Small, chair of the Young Literati, welcomed guests into the sacred space of the library, along with Justin Veach, director of New Initiatives, who confessed he was an evangelist for the “holy library” or did he mean “wholly library,” the one place in our society that is free and open to all. New City Librarian John Szabo thanked supporters, and joked about the irreverent feeling of the night, but quickly noted that libraries are not just houses for print books, but are where our community comes together.

“I love the way molecules collide in a library,” said graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, who is an honorary chair of the Young Literati along with his wife Amanda, before reading from The Catcher in the Rye. The readers were asked to select a work that had special meaning to them, and Fairey prefaced his obvious connection to the outsider protagonist Holden Caulfield by describing how libraries influenced his philosophy of art making by giving him free access to art books growing up, a lifeline for a struggling artist. Later Moby shared a similar sentiment before he read from The Futurist Manifesto by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a work he discovered in his high school library. The extremist manifesto shocked the young Moby, a great great great nephew of Herman Melville, and opened up a world of non-conventional thinking for the musician. Moby and Shepard Fairey, proud Los Angeles Public Library cardholders.

Artist/filmmaker/author Miranda July performed an exercise she usually reserves for private—to overcome a creative block she reads random words from the dictionary for insight. After hilariously self-diagnosing herself as “demonic,” she also performed the exercise on the energetic comedian Jack Black, whose suitable word choice was “throb.” Black later returned to the stage to read from a book by Jack Black, not himself, but an odd adventure story from the 20s, which in further coincidences included a reference to the library. At the end of the night, Black serenaded the late night crowd with a lullaby, bringing his wife Tanya Haden, a professional singer and cellist to the stage, sending off everyone on a literal high note.

Jack Black and Miranda July read their futures from the dictionary.

Interested in becoming a member of the Young Literati? Learn more.

All photos by Rick Mendoza.

Plug in to 20 Years of ALOUD

As the Library Foundation celebrates our 20th anniversary this year, we’ve put together a commemorative podcast archive of ALOUD—our longest running cultural program that brings some of the most iconic writers, performers, and thinkers to the library stage. For the first time-ever, you can own a portable piece of history through this USB drive, which has over 20 hours of audio podcasts from some of ALOUD’s most memorable programs, including never-before-released recordings such as an acoustic set from Patti Smith, a reading by August Wilson, and a darkly humorous exchange between “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball and undertaker/poet Thomas Lynch. Other programs include Susan Sontag, W.G. Sebald, Robert Pinsky, and more. Find it here at the Library Store.

A Storytelling Renaissance in the Digital Age

From a 140-character count ephemeral tweet, to a behemoth Jonathan Franzen hardback, forms of storytelling today are ever-elastic and changing. We read, we watch, we listen, we mass consume stories with less discrimination on the form and delivery, and more on the authenticity of the voice. We yearn for stories that shed light on the human experience, and in a world fast-forwarding with technology, a return to the pure, elemental forms of storytelling is sometimes what can fuel and transport us.

This summer at the Los Angeles Public Library, ostensibly the greatest civic record of stories in our city, storytelling is going retro, with ALOUD events featuring tried and true in-person discourse—with people talking and people listening. (With a little technology mixed in for good measure to record and transmit the events.)

Richard Montoya, Myriam Gurba, Alie Ward, Héctor Tobar, Brenda Varda, Erin Aubry Kaplan, Philip Littell, and Tom Lutz. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Last week, ALOUD and the LA Review of Books teamed up for a first-ever experimental live-storytelling extravaganza. Local writers (pictured above) put down their pens and took the mic to retell personal anecdotes from their own lives in the City of Angels. Tom Lutz and his band Blue Tuna provided a soundtrack for the festivities and Richard Montoya of Culture Clash, in his role as provocateur and MC, opened the night with his own L.A. rhapsody, “It’s still a desert after all,” he said of the mystifying landscape, “Nothing is concrete except the river.”

The stories ranged from humorous run-ins with elderly strangers, to the good-old-days of outdoor theatre on Topanga Canyon, to ghost stories of the Black Dahlia, to Héctor Tobar’s piercing recollection of his stepfather’s suicide—a story with such factual acuity and intimacy of Los Angeles county that perhaps only a LA Times journalist could tell it with equal parts of heart. Listen to a podcast of this event here.

Next up, a group of storytellers will bring radio to the ALOUD stage. On Tuesday, June 26, Daniel Alarcón and fellow radio producers and reporters will present a live broadcast of the new Spanish-language radio show, Radio Ambulante. In the style of This American Life, Radio Ambulante is the first show to tell the stories of latinoamericanos de todas las Américas.

Radio Ambulante and team rehearsing for ALOUD event.

As part of this special bilingual evening that will also examine how radio and digital media are impacting the way we tell stories today, Sonic Trace, KCRW’s new multi-platform story-telling project, will be at the Central Library to collect your story before the event. We caught up with Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, a producer of Sonic Trace to discuss how this project is sweeping L.A. for stories.

What are you planning for the ALOUD event?

Anayansi: We see the ALOUD event as a way to present ourselves to the part of the Los Angeles community that knows good story-telling, understands the power of radio and will understand why Sonic Trace is important. Radio Ambulante’s audience is our audience – Latin Americanized Americans and Americanized Latin Americans. We are planning on meeting and greeting at the event, and we are bringing our recorders with us. We want people to answer our questions—¿Por qué te vas? ¿Por qué te quedas? ¿Por qué regresas?—and through their answers, give them a taste of what we envision for Sonic Trace—an oral history mosaic of what makes us stay, go and come back to Los Angeles.

Can you talk about the curatorial process of finding these LA stories? How are you reaching out to the community?

Anayansi: Good storytelling is universal. It is quotidian and timeless at the same time. Sonic Trace aims towards this core in every single story—radio feature, sonic ID, contributed web story, podcast, video and blog post. Making stories universal and timeless is both a goal and a curatorial parameter. Beyond that, a Sonic Trace story should represent a very local Los Angeles narrative that crosses into a local narrative of a city, town and village of origin. We want to know what it feels like to bump into a childhood friend from the Honduran highlands in the heart of Santa Monica. Or, the ways in which entire communities in Mexico and Central America have been transformed by el otro lado (the other side).

Gary Scott, KCRW’s News Director puts it nicely, “Where other news stations might see “local” as constraining, we see local as a pathway to other parts of the state, country and world; a pathway to other cultures and across generations. These pathways connect us, and they sometimes serve as lines that we fear to cross. The concept of “local” is an entry point. After all, we might not be ready to hear about a tragedy or triumph in El Salvador, but we might learn about it if the story starts at our corner store—and we learn that foreign really isn’t foreign at all.”

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes collecting stories.

We are reaching out the community in various ways. We are finding points of engagement with potential audiences through events, like the one in which Radio Ambulante is participating.  But we are also actively going to high schools and working with young people across Los Angeles, we are hosting events at hometown associations from the states and cities of origin. We are targeting “cultural ambassadors” who already have the trust of the community, and think that our project is relevant, like the clergy in Santa Cecilia Church.

We also held a design competition reaching out to L.A.’s design community to design our sound booth. The winner was announced this week, and in a month and a half we should have our booth out in communities gathering stories. Our aim is to set it up in places where people already convene—like MacArthur Park and La Guelaguetza Restaurant in Koreatown.

Image of winning design for Sonic Trace mobile sound booth.

Are there any trends or themes you see surfacing in people’s experiences?

Anayansi: I’ve found that our questions ¿Por qué te vas? ¿Por qué te quedas? ¿Por qué regresas? Why do you go? Why do you stay? And, what makes you return? bring up surprising answers. So often we hear cliché immigrant stories that are framed as “the other”. The truth is that as Americans, we can all relate to why people make these decisions. At the same time, the answers are unique to each person. There is a storytelling balance there that my co-producer and I are constantly searching for. The trick is to be recording….

How do you think storytelling has changed in light of the high-tech world we live in? What role does “audio” play in our cultural landscape?

Anayansi: The digital age is presenting a renaissance for radio and audio. It is a charmed time for independent radio/audio producers. Of course, there is the aspect of both targeted digital distribution and massive on-air reach. But what is less obvious is how the format has changed. It has gone back to its core of entertainment and storytelling from pre-TV times, and it has also evolved into a space of flourishing creativity and endless possibility for narrative. From more staple documentary programs like This American Life and Radio Diaries to entire format breakers like Nick van der Kolk’s Love and Radio podcast, the work of Kara Oehler and Ann Heppermann and now, Radio Ambulante.

They say radio is dead. But I say radio has been dead, and we’re still here. We’re used to the bad rap, so we’re not hung up on it like print and TV. I think radio is resilient, and the digital age is paying radio back for it.

Click here to read more about Sonic Trace.

Reserve your free ticket for the Radio Ambulante event at ALOUD here.

Sonic Trace is part of Localore, a national initiative of AIR–Association for Independents in Radio– with principal funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  It is produced in partnership with AIR and Zeega. The broadcast home of Sonic Trace is KCRW’s Independent Producer Project. The full project will go live this fall. In the meantime, tune into our radio features.

–Posted by Bridgette Bates