Legos to develop literacy skills; a cart filled with mobile devices for trying out e-media; healthy cooking workshops for teens; drought resistant gardens to teach water conservation—these are just a sampling of the 13 projects that have received grants through [email protected], a program designed to foster staff empowerment and develop innovative ways to enhance the Los Angeles Public Library. Inspired by a similar concept at Atlanta-Fulton Library System brought to LAPL by City Librarian John Szabo, the Library Foundation funded the launch of this program in 2013 to bring to fruition great ideas brewing from inside the Library.
Entering its fourth cycle, [email protected], which stands for: Innovation, Discovery, Empowerment, Aspiration, and Service, awards grants up to $5,000 every six months to all levels of staff who have envisioned fresh, creative approaches to improving existing library services or programs. “Innovation comes when we have the chance to take risks,” says San Pedro Regional Branch Children’s Librarian and grant recipient Ednita Kelly. “By working with different people in different library branches and in different departments throughout the Library and City, we can all learn so much from each other and build relationships to help each other reach our common goals.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti recently awarded Kelly a Civic Innovation Award for her IDEAS project. Kelly is the mastermind behind the LAPL Book Bike, which provides mobile delivery of library outreach services to the community. She spins around L.A. supermarkets, Dia de los Muertos festivals, community bike rides, and more giving away free books, signing up folks for library cards, and taking book donations—all the while letting kids ring the bike bell.
[email protected] has also spawned new ways to serve underrepresented populations across the city. For example, in Los Angeles County, an estimated 30,000 people have been diagnosed with aphasia—an acquired language disorder, usually resulting from stroke or head injury, which affects a person’s ability to speak, read, write, and understand speech. Public Service Librarian Francie Schwarz used her grant to fund the Aphasia Book Club at the Echo Park Branch Library. “For most of our members, the books they have read in the club are the first books they have read since having aphasia. For them, the act of reading, and discussing what they have read, is a way of reaffirming their essential intelligence. It also gives them an opportunity to interact socially without feeling self-conscious,” explains Schwarz. “Our members support each other. They take turns and they listen. These things don’t always happen in the world at large.”
At the Panorama City Branch Library, Senior Librarian Teri Markson and Program Coordinator Christine Godinez have applied an [email protected] grant to orchestrate a toy loan program. LAPLays! allows kids to check out play kits that can help lay a foundation for early literacy skills—educational toys that might otherwise be cost prohibitive for many families. “As a result of this project we have bonded as a staff, improved our community presence, and formed very valuable partnerships with local organizations such as Best Start and WIC,” says Markson. With over 1,500 kits having circulated, the overwhelming enthusiastic response has taught Markson and Godinez that great ideas are labors of love. They continue to evolve LAPLays! to keep patrons engaged; additional kits have been purchased with more toys for toddlers as well as science-themed toys for elementary age children. The program will also soon expand to the Arroyo Seco Regional Branch in Highland Park. As Markson notes, “Innovation doesn’t just take a good idea, it takes enduring commitment.”
Stay tuned for a new crop of grant-funded projects hitting libraries this fall—including, adaptive and inclusive maker programs for youth with disabilities, a teen zine, and more.
Photo Credits: Madeline Pena and Rainbeau Tharp.