When the Libraries are Closed: Reading Resources for Families in East LA and Beyond

This story is part of a series of stories and educational resources featuring East LA and its surrounding neighborhoods and communities.

Many libraries have reduced hours and suspended storytimes with the recent increase in coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant. Even in places where libraries have not suspended these programs, some parents of children under 5, with the group still awaiting approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, may be reluctant to take their children to places where they will encounter large groups and could catch the virus.

Local bookstores and nonprofits are helping fill some of these gaps for families in the Greater East Los Angeles area. Additionally, experts remind parents and caregivers that there are reading opportunities anywhere in the home — and anywhere in the community — whether a child is reading a recipe or interpreting symbols on road signs. Southern California libraries have also adapted and provided parents with online resources since the pandemic began so children can access reading materials and programs from home.

“It’s the same if you go to the library and look at the different shelves (of books),” said Joanna Fabicon, senior librarian for children’s services at the Los Angeles Public Library.

The importance of reading

Being exposed to books and reading from an early age is essential, and not just because it prepares children for school, said Oona Fontanella-Nothom, assistant professor of early childhood education at Cal State. Los Angeles, PhD in Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum with a Focus on Early Childhood Education.

Reading does several things in children’s development, starting with letting them see themselves as readers and writers, Fontanella-Nothom said. Reading also helps children see the role of reading in life. As they discover and explore the world around them, they begin to understand that reading provides answers to their questions and helps them better understand their surroundings.

“They see reading as an integral part of their lives,” Fontanella-Nothom said.

The books children read can also affect their future reading habits. When children have access to culturally relevant books – books where they can relate to themselves, their customs, language, race and ethnicity – the material can enhance a child’s interest in reading. If the books deal with subjects or characters that are different from themselves, children may lose interest in reading because “they can’t really relate to their own lives,” she said.

Libraries are not the only sources of books

Families looking for options outside of traditional libraries can turn to independent bookstores and nonprofit organizations, such as the Libros Schmibros bilingual lending library in the Boyle Heights community of Los Angeles.

The nonprofit, which is not a bookstore, is on a mission to provide low-cost, free books to residents of Boyle Heights and surrounding communities, said co-founder David Kipen.

Libros Schmibros is not in competition with the nearby Benjamin Franklin branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, Kipen said. Instead, Libros Schmibros supplements the services of the library branch. And, like the library branch and other establishments, Libros Schmibros is taking precautions to protect the health of readers and its staff.

Parents are encouraged to stop and browse the collection of children’s books. After informing staff, parents can exit, sit at the table by the door, and make a final selection of books with their child, Kipen said.

Parents can also view the Libros Schmibros collection online, select a book and arrange to pick it up, he said.

“Our staff is happy to meet someone up front and hand over the book,” Kipen said.

Libros Schmibros, located in Mariachi Square, is a short walk from the Gold Line metro station.

For area residents, “we’re an option and a walking distance option in Boyle Heights,” Kipen said.

If readers can’t find what they’re looking for, staff will offer suggestions where they might find what they’re looking for, he said.

Other Reading Materials

Books aren’t the only learning tool, according to Fontanella-Nothom.

It’s important to have “a broader view of literature,” she says.

A merchandise catalog, take-out menu or recipe can all become reading materials, Fontanella-Notham said. Reading descriptions of catalog items, meals listed on the menu, or recipe ingredients are all valuable.

“Reading the recipe aloud increases those reading practices,” Fontanella-Nothom said.

Showing road signs or a poster for a lost dog are also reading opportunities, she said.

Take advantage of small free libraries that may be found in the neighborhood, Fontanella-Nothom said. Small free libraries often offer children’s books to lend or exchange. They also serve to instill the concept of giving back to children.

It is valuable to introduce children to reading material in other languages. This exposes young minds to different languages, and research shows that bilingual and multilingual children develop enhanced memories and have sharper cognitive abilities than their monolingual counterparts, Fontanella-Nothom said.

Bilingual and multilingual children react quickly to ideas and concepts.

“They’re able to do this hard work of changing the language” quickly, Fontanella-Nothom said. “It’s just a great skill… It’s a professional advantage.”

What Libraries Offer

The Los Angeles Public Library and the Los Angeles County Library Systems both have children’s collections that include books in English, Spanish, and other languages.

County libraries continue to provide curbside services, said Debbie Anderson, assistant director of education and engagement with the Los Angeles County Library System. Parents can go online, order books and pick them up. Book lists are available to help make selections.

Anderson said reading physical copies of books does more than help children expand their vocabulary and prepare to start school. Books help develop motor skills by helping children learn how to handle them and practice turning pages.

The Los Angeles County Library System has many resources available on its website. The Los Angeles Public Library also offers an assortment of services through its website.

  • The county system is offering a virtual story hour through its Facebook page, allowing children to enjoy reading at home.
  • Also, the county library has the TumbleBook library which consists of a collection of books to read and pictures for different age groups and reading levels.
  • The Parenting Tips site provides tips and other resources designed to help parents work with their children on a variety of issues.
  • Ready Rosie is available in English and Spanish. The Early Learning Resource contains videos and other materials to provide parents and other caregivers with activities that prepare children to start school.
  • Positive Parenting Consultations is a unique service that allows parents to request one-on-one conversations with accredited Triple P Positive Parenting librarians. They help them explore solutions to common parenting issues at different age levels, such as bedwetting or temper tantrums around meals or household chores.
  • For families who don’t have access to computers or don’t have an Internet connection, the county library can help overcome digital barriers, Anderson said. Through the County Library’s website, parents can view laptops and Wi-Fi hotspot devices for three-week periods.

All of these services are free, but most require a library card. People who don’t have one can apply online.

The assortment of services is intended to help families.

“We really tried to accommodate the needs of parents,” Anderson said.

The Los Angeles Public Library lists an array of children’s literacy programs on its Kids Path web pages.

  • Among the services available are Book Bundles to Go. Parents can submit a request for a librarian to assemble bundles of books. Parents can go to the library’s website, select five books, and they’ll be pulled from the shelves and prepared for a parent to pick up. Parents can also enter information about their child, including age and interests, and librarians will create a set for them, according to senior librarian Joanna Fabicon.
  • The City Library system broadcasts storytimes live via Facebook and YouTube and offers different types of storytime programs designed for different age levels.
  • Storytime kits come with storytime sessions, Fabicon said. Parents can visit their local branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and request the kits containing all the materials needed to complete a story-related activity. For example, an upcoming Valentine’s Day kit will be available at the Little Tokyo Branch Library.
  • A wide range of reading material is available online, including the Tumble Book Library and MakeMake, a digital platform containing Latin American books written in Spanish.
  • A list of award-winning children’s books is available as well as activities for children aged 0-5 are also available online, which includes a calendar of reading activities.

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