Altadena Library Programs Reflect Multi-Ethnic Community

The reading court at the Altadena Library. - Courtesy Photo
The reading court at the Altadena Library. – Courtesy Photo


By May S. Ruiz

On the second Saturday of every month (at least from October through June), the Altadena Library turns into a hopping and noisy place – descriptions few people would associate with the word library. And that’s by design.

A brainchild of Mindy Kittay, Director of the Altadena Library District, Second Saturday began about a year and a half ago. She explains, “I felt we needed to do something to bring the community into the library for reasons besides checking out a book. We want to provide opportunities for people to create, imagine, and be motivated to learn, grow, and enjoy music, dancing, food, and drink.”

“From 6:30 to 8:30 pm every month, Second Saturday features a band to provide music people can dance to while they eat, drink, mingle and talk,” continues Kittay. “In October we partnered with ‘Next Door,’ an online social network for communities. Altadena ‘Next Door’ reaches 4,000 members and they wanted to celebrate in a meet-and-greet where they can see face-to-face the people they’ve been talking to online. So we invited them to our community center for that purpose. About 50 or 60 ‘Next Door’ people came that Saturday then they headed upstairs to eat, drink, listen to music and dance.”

Kittay makes it a point to present a diverse offering. This month, Second Saturday (which will be held on Dec. 3, because the Christmas Tree Lane lighting is scheduled for Dec. 10) will feature Young Dempsey. Band members Drewin Young, Josh Jones, Matt Lake and Marc Doten will play music from the ’50s to ’80s to evoke hot-rodded nostalgic doo-wop and country sound.

This month’s Second Saturday event will coincide with the Open Studios Tour weekend which will kick-off with a reception on Friday, December 2 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The library will be open on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 4 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“The library hasn’t opened on a Sunday in several years but it will be this weekend for Open Studios. It’s where their tours will start, for people to pick up the brochures, maps, and information for the self-guided tour to 23 locations hosting a total of 53 artists,” Kittay says.

Unlike a typical gallery show, the Open Studios Tour provides an intimate view into the artists’ life and studio; it shows where and how ideas are conceived and developed. Visitors get a glimpse of the creative process, which makes for an individualized experience.

From January through June, Second Saturday concerts will showcase multi-cultural musical performers: Todd Washington Trio (blues, folk, rock, soul and gospel); Louis Van Taylor Quintet (jazz); DeRumba (Spanish guitar to the beat of the gypsy rumba); Splish Splash Band (folk ‘n blues); Michael Haggins Band (funk and smooth jazz); and The Satisfaction Band (dance music Top 40, Latin rock, R&B, cumbias, and oldies).

A project Kittay is currently working on is called Community Conversations.  She describes, “Using the Harwood Process, we will reach out to every corner of Altadena between now and mid-March, and have a series of fifteen conversations. We want to represent everyone in the community regardless of race, religion, financial standing, or sexual orientation. We want to ask them their aspirations for themselves and the community; their challenges; and how they felt they can help with those challenges.”

“We will compile our findings and create a report which we will present to the Altadena Chamber of Commerce, Town Council, Board of Supervisors, churches, schools, and service  organizations including the Rotary Club,” Kittay says further. “From this process we expect three specific things. First: connections – we will learn about organizations, people and opportunities, and who needs what so we can effectively connect people. Second: partnerships – this will help eliminate duplication of effort.  We can partner with someone to provide what we need instead of us reinventing the wheel to fill that requirement. Third: a plan – our strategic plan expires in 2017. We’ll use the information we gather to help us decide how we can better serve our community.”

Kittay came on board in November of 2014 to lead a staff of 32, and run the main library, which occupies a 10,000 sq. ft. mid-century building on East Mariposa Street, and a branch library, a 1,500 sq. ft. structure on Ventura and Lincoln in west Altadena. She was responsible for the many changes the main library has undergone since. Without spending a dime, she supervised moving around shelves and area partitions to create spaces for specific functions and users. She got rid of books which no one has checked out in years and reorganized the physical area to make it easier for people to locate what they’re looking for.

And there’s much to find. The Altadena Library has more than 80,000 items for people to borrow including books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, books on CDs and video games. It has e-books and e-audiobooks that can be checked out and downloaded from home.

There are 20 laptops and 12 chromebooks available for patrons to checkout for the full day at the main library (but cannot leave the premises). The branch library has three laptops and three chromebooks. Both library sites have 1G Wi-Fi.

Users have access to computers, printers, scanners, and copiers (color and B&W), 3D printers and Virtual Reality equipment by appointment. The libraries have online programs to help with homework and job skills as well as research. Librarians can help with questions and research needs. All the services at both libraries are free except for photocopying, faxing, and printing.

A community room is available to the public for use as a small meeting or collaboration space.  There is a water conservation garden for people to enjoy on site as well.

According to Kittay, Altadena has about 55,000 residents and has also seen several changes since the Altadena Library opened its doors in 1967.  Its population used to be 30 percent African Americans and 10 percent Latinos, the number has reversed to 30 percent Latinos and 10 percent African Americans.

It is Kittay’s job to make sure the library adapts to the shifting needs of the community.  But she is undoubtedly up to the task. After all, she gained an excellent experience at her previous job as the Finance Director at Any Think Libraries in Colorado. During the five years she worked there, it went from what the Denver Post decried ‘the worst library in the state’ to winning an IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) Library of the Year award, the highest honor it can achieve. “We reinvented what a library could be,” she declares.

In the two years since taking the helm at the Altadena Library, Kittay has redefined its functions. She has created a library that is responsive to the needs of the community – “outward-facing,” she says.

With Kittay steering the wheel at the Altadena Library District, it will assuredly head in the direction where it had never gone before.


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