Carlos Luna is a regular at the Echo Park Branch Library in Los Angeles, California. He’s known by name by all the staff. Without hesitation he states, “I’m comfortable here.” He looks to be in his mid-to-late 20s, he’s fond of heavy metal, plays guitar, is looking for work, taking La Computer Happy Hour classes at the branch, recently started his own blog (which he learned in class at the Library), and is a member of the Library’s chess club that meets every Tuesday. He’s also teaching some kids how to play chess – apparently one of his apprentices is the next Bobby Fischer. I catch him in the lobby conversing with his friend Maria Hermosillo, a young mother who brings along her two children most of the time so they can do their homework and take art classes. Maria volunteers at the branch and also takes La Computer Happy Hour classes that are taught by the branch’s Cybernaut Eva Rios-Alvarado.
“Eva is the best! Put that in your story.” Carlos nods in approval as Maria goes on, “She’s patient and she makes you feel comfortable – nice, calm, and down to earth. She takes her time to break everything down until you get it. She showed me how to apply for jobs online, upload and download files…so much.”
Eva is one of 24 Cybernauts in the Los Angeles Public Library system. She will resign soon to pursue her Masters in Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, which will be a bittersweet next chapter. Eva’s adored at the branch. She knows patrons by first name and people constantly stop to talk to her. It is the kind of love you get when you give a lot of love. It is beautiful to see the sense of community in action at the Echo Park branch.
Cybernauts, currently stationed at 24 of the 73 Los Angeles Public Libraries, help library patrons more easily navigate their computer needs. As the program offers support to library users, it also provides relevant professional experience to young adults in the community who work as the aides in these part-time positions funded by the generous donors of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Cybernauts answer basic questions (e.g. how to reserve a computer, how to sign-on to the KidsPath, or even how to use a mouse) to more advanced questions (e.g. accessing and navigating the Library’s catalog and databases like EBSCOhost, which offers users access to e-Books, e-Audiobooks, e-Videos and e-Music). Some also teach group classes.
La Computer Happy Hour was conceived and implemented by Eva back when the Echo Park’s then senior librarian, Lisa Palombi, challenged her to think of ways to engage community patrons. “I call it La Computer Happy Hour on purpose; Spanglish is used in this community!” Eva laughs. She continues, “By teaching the class in both Spanish and English, I am able to serve a wider audience. Most of the people that attend prefer to learn in Spanish. I actually teach in both languages during the same class – Native English speakers have told me that it helps them learn Spanish and those uncomfortable with English learn too.” Classes are on Wednesday’s and Friday’s from 3:30 – 4:30 pm and cover topics such as: typing, exploring the web, email, LAPL’s online catalog, sharing images and Facebook, digital storytelling, and blogging.
“As long as there’s information, we need space for people to access it and those who can organize it. Libraries are essential to our communities. You see many of the same people every day using it for various purposes; it’s for all of us. Whether you read the magazines, take art classes for kids, meet up with your comadres, look for jobs – - you see people grow.”