Lucille Cappas, head librarian at the Venice Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library, always loved books and reading.
“You can use your imagination to learn about the world, to learn about people and places,” she says. “I used to loan my books out to other kids in the neighborhood, so it sort of came natural to me to become a librarian.”
She was also fortunate to have a mentor — a librarian at the El Marino Library in Culver City, which is no longer in existence.
Lucille, who was born in Los Angeles, actually lived in Venice at a very young age and graduated from Notre Dame High School. Her two children are Venice High School graduates. She always told people what a wonderful school it is from her experiences through her children and other students she has worked with.
The school thinks she’s pretty wonderful, too. Every year the Venice High School Alumni Association honors alumni who have made a difference with the school and their communities. In 2001, the selection of honorees included one who was both an exception to the rule and an exceptional community person.
In its wisdom, the alumni association was able to recognize the contribution Lucille has made, and continues to make, to their school.
It was the association’s way of showing gratitude for her work with the school for 18 years, during which she has interacted in a variety of ways — from visiting classrooms to employing students at the library. Many Venice High students also do volunteer work and special projects for the library.
In August this year Lucille celebrates 37 years with the Los Angeles Public Library. She spent the first 12 years working at libraries in different parts of Los Angeles.
When she arrived in Venice in April 25 years ago, she “knew she was home.” There have been quite a few changes since that time. The most prominent was the construction of a new library at Venice Boulevard and Ocean Avenue that provides more room to house books and seat readers than the old library on California Avenue.
The advent of the Internet has produced a new kind of client and changes have been made to accommodate this need.
“We have people from all over the world who stay at Venice hostels coming in to use the computers,” Lucille says. She reports that the ten computer stations are in constant use.
However, the Internet has not diminished the need for information from the library.
“People think they’re going to sit down, type in a search word and instantly find what they want,” she adds. “It certainly doesn’t work that way and they come back to us for assistance.”
In addition to the transformation brought on by the Internet, the focus on materials has also evolved to keep up with the times. The emphasis is now on popular audio and audiovisual media such as CDs, DVDs and books on tape. These items are primarily purchased through the main library, but sometimes, especially during periods of cutbacks, the Friends of the Venice Library steps in with additional funds to provide more material and extra programs.
Lucille praises the participation of the Friends.
“We are very fortunate at this library because we have an active [Friends] board,” she says. “We always have eight to ten people who are involved with the operation. So many libraries don’t have that. They have one, or if they’re lucky, two people who run everything.”
There is, however, a real need for volunteers to assist with special events, such as helping to set up and pack books for the book sales. Yearly Friends of the Venice Library dues start at $10, which is really an affordable way for us to support our local library. There is a new Web site, www.fovl.org/.
The Friends return the praise to Lucille. Lenore Ritkes, who served as Friends president for ten years, acknowledges that “Lucille has always been supportive of the Friends of the Venice Library since its inception in 1986. And we have added to her stress by being in the way, underfoot, in her office and demanding her attention.
“She always responds with humor and grace, as she does in managing the staff, the patrons, the diverse community, the main downtown office, as well as the ever-present homeless. We are able to do so much because she is always available for us and all she serves.”
The library isn’t only for taking out books. It is a meeting place for the Finnegans Wake discussion Group, Westside Quilters, Westside Writers and the Venice Historical Society.
Special programs are provided for all ages, starting with toddler stories and songs. There is a new young adult librarian who is getting programs together for teens. Last year there was a series of classes on small business and, more recently, anti-cancer nutrition cooking classes.
“We try to find topics that will be of interest to the community,” says Lucille.
She has demonstrated in many ways that she feels it’s important to contribute to one’s community, “because we are all members of the community, and in order to have a community be its best, we need contributions — not financial, but contributions of time and effort from everybody,” she says. “The more people who are active and contribute, the better the community will be.”
The community of Venice appreciates Lucille’s contributions.
Former Venice Chamber of Commerce president Carol Tantau-Smith says, “Our community is so extraordinarily fortunate to have a head librarian who goes so far and above the call of duty. Of course, she does live in the neighborhood, but how many of your neighbors have pitched in consistently for years on every single community event that happens?
“Her work with the Venice Chamber [of Commerce] and the Abbot Kinney Boulevard Festival is legendary. But let us not forget the Friends of the Venice Library — okay, that is her job — Oakwood United, LAPD Basic Car [Plan] meetings, visiting politicians, the Venice Historical Society and the countless other organizations and events who would/could not survive without her help.”
Isn’t Venice lucky to have Lucille!