March 10, 2014

Librarian Q&A: The Los Angeles Public Library


Peggy Murphy and Catherine Royalty at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Peggy Murphy and Catherine Royalty at the Los Angeles Public Library.

The Los Angeles Public Library traces its origin to 1844, when it was started from donated books from citizens when Los Angeles was a town of only about 1,500 people. Librarians like Mary Emily Foy, who set up the Dewey Decimal card-catalog system in the library, and Tessa Kels, who “fought to keep racy French novels on the shelves,” forged the way from the late 1800s through the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1921, the city of Los Angeles passed a bond issue that funded the permanent home for the library, which was designed by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.

Today, the Los Angeles Public Library has six million volumes and is one of the largest publicly funded libraries in the world. Two arson fires in 1986 destroyed twenty percent of the library’s holdings and the music reading room. The city subsequently rallied around repairs and renovations to the library and it was reopened to the public in 1993. The library boasts a number of special collections that are so much fun to browse, including historic photographs, fruit crate labels, book plates, maps, travel posters, movie posters, and sheet music. I got to visit librarians Peggy Murphy and Catherine Royalty at the LAPL and asked them some questions about the beautiful place where they work.

Claire: Tell me about your role at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Peggy: I manage the collection units and all of the emedia purchasing.

Catherine: I help subject departments place their orders, and organize all of the choices for the book selectors at our branches.

Claire: What is unique about the Los Angeles Public Library?

Peggy: Our library system includes 72 branches in addition to the historic main library that was built in the 1920s (the new wing of the central library opened in 1994 after damage due to two arson fires was restored). Our City Librarian, John Szabo, is dedicated to making sure the patrons of Los Angeles have the best. We also have an excellent
reputation for our ebook collection.

Catherine: We serve a diverse population, and can provide content for people—from those who want print books to patrons who have every type of gadget.

Claire: What programs or incentives are you particularly excited about at the Los Angeles Public Library?

Peggy: We offer immigration assistance for those who are interested in a path to citizenship and we help provide information about the affordable care act. The main branch has a new literacy center, and many branches provide school visits. We are starting a brand new online accredited highschool program in the next few months, and we have a dedicated space for a jobs center. We also provide resources and information for veterans.

Claire: Why are libraries important?

Peggy: I just saw this recently—“If we have Google, why do we need libraries?” And the answer was “If we have WebMD, why do we need doctors?” The information is out there, but librarians help find what you actually need and provide a complete answer that isn’t just touching the surface.

Catherine: We are also a hub that helps people wade through information. And as far as the library buildings themselves, there are so few public spaces where people can be without having to buy something anymore. Libraries are important public places.


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.