Director’s Letter – December 2015

Libros Schmibros on Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights - near Metro Gold Line

Hi, it’s me, David Kipen from the Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights. Unless I’m mistaken, at some point over the last five years you did Libros the honor of joining our mailing list, and I promise not to make you regret it now.

In case you haven’t checked in on us lately, we’re still mostly the same Libros we’ve always been. Four years ago we moved a few blocks, so we’re right on top of the Mariachi Plaza Gold Line Station now, but Boyle Heights is still home. We also phased out bookselling in favor of a nonprofit membership model, partly to reassure any skeptics that practically giving good books away is nobody’s idea of a get-rich-quick scheme.

Beyond all that, people still walk into Libros Schmibros looking for a little conviviality and a good book to keep, just like always. Provided you’ve got a few minutes every couple-three months, I figured I’d experiment with a kind of director’s letter, just to stay in touch and catch you up on some of the things Libros is doing lately. 

Bicycle Libraries 2015 - Libros Schmibros Lending Library

For example, we’ve been spending most of a year prepping, refining, and finally piloting the Bicycle Libraries initiative. We now have a small fleet of four bikes, new shelves for ease of re-stocking, and a cadre of local teenage riders who have loved nothing more than to fetch up at Libros two nights a week, argue thoughtfully with each other (and us) on behalf of which particular books would better suit their appointed destination, and then go out and put them into the hands of some shockingly grateful Boyle Heights passersby.

A couple of hours later, they return to Libros with panniers empty of books and heads full of stories about who they met and what everybody likes to read. Then they each put their experiences down on paper, recounting a couple of their most noteworthy encounters out among the (sometimes lapsed) readers of their neighborhood. It really opens their eyes to the world of literature beyond just what they read for school — not to mention what it does for the people of Boyle Heights when a sometimes shy but newly emboldened high-school kid rolls right up and offers them a choice of good books to keep.

Quien dice que los lationos no leen? - La Opinion 2014

It’s all worked out almost frighteningly similar to the way we first roughed it out, in this front-page story from La Opinión last year.

Our Bicycle Library riders have now put hundreds of books into our neighbors’ hands. Most of these students come from Lincoln High or Mendez High School’s Reading Club, which Steve Lopez profiled in the LA Times after an event we put on this year. Here, if we haven’t shown you yet.

Urrea, Rodriguea and Mendez High School Reading Club - Steve Lopez - LA Times 2015

But what do journalists know? The Bicycle Library riders themselves have composed after-ride chronicles of their experiences, with comments along the lines of:

“I had no idea people like to read. It got me curious, because a lot of people are in their phones most of the time. But I helped the people out.”

“I met a person who took a Shakespeare book from the basket, and we had a conversation about HIM wanting ME to read a book about Shakespeare.”

“Met a mother who was unsure if “HOWL” was a children’s book. Recommended other poetry books for her high school daughter. Briefly spoke with a young woman.  Recommended her Borges. Said she had always wanted to read him, looked ecstatic.”

Or my favorite–

“I gave him a book.  When I was about to leave he asked if I like strawberries. So he gave me a box of strawberries as I left. Today was great. I can’t wait to give books away again.”

So that’s Bicycle Libraries. We’ve also gotten some nice votes of confidence just over the summer from Sony Pictures, The LA County Arts Commission, and a couple of our oldest and dearest friends, whose names you can find among our honor roll of mensches here.  Best of all, every week we get to put books into people’s hands.  What’s better than that?

So whether we just saw you yesterday or it’s been a while, please come back for another helping of Libros Schmibros. We’re welcoming new members and new books every week. Anyone who tells you that nobody reads books anymore — or that it’s hard to make new friends in Los Angeles — has obviously never visited Libros…


David Kipen - Founder of Libros Schmibros

David Kipen
Founder, Libros Schmibros

“Los Angeles is like your brain. You only ever use 20% of it. But imagine if we used it all.”