The thriving Playa Vista library marks a decade of growth and change on Saturday

By Michael Aushenker

playa-vista-01This weekend, Los Angeles Public Library’s Playa Vista branch celebrates an important milestone — its 10th anniversary —with refreshments and live entertainment by award-winning virtuoso guitarist Shawn Ishimoto. Friends of Playa Vista Library, a nonprofit devoted to raising funds to support programs, acquisitions, entertainers and speakers through memberships and book sales, is sponsoring Saturday’s festivities.

This is one celebration, however, that truly extends beyond this library’s decade-long run.

In a Feb. 12 column in The Wall Street Journal, “Gameworld” author Christopher John Farley wrote that “Libraries of the future could be places we go not to just check out books, but to check out each other — to participate, face to face, in cultural activities in a way we can’t do over the Internet. Some of this is being done. Perhaps more of it needs to be done soon.”

Count Playa Vista’s library among those that are doing this now, as the branch reflects and benefits from its still-growing host community.

The 90094 has seen significant growth since Playa Vista’s developers established the first new community on the Westside in decades. The library first opened in September 2003, when Playa Vista held what it called “the largest community open house in recent Los Angeles city history,” with tours of model homes, outdoor concerts, electric car test rides, urban gardening demonstrations, freshwater marsh tours, and model airplane, children’s museum and home technology exhibits.

A decade prior to the open house, in 1993, some 10,500 square feet had been reserved for a library.

“Playa Vista developer Steve Soboroff had set aside the property given to the city of Los Angeles to build a library,” said Playa Vista Branch Senior Librarian Joseph Atkinson, who came aboard the branch six months after its 2003 opening.

Designed by architect Scott Johnson of Johnson Fain Partners, Playa Vista’s library was funded by the city’s Proposition DD general obligation bond, which paved the way for construction of 32 new branch libraries.

“Westchester Library was built from the ground up and opened six months before we did,” Atkinson said, while branches in Baldwin Hills and Hyde Park also opened and others, such as the library’s Jefferson branch, received major renovations.

Not that establishing a library in the new millennium was a cakewalk. The Playa Vista branch had already reduced staff and hours during system-wide budget cuts of 2004-05, before recession hit hard in 2008.

“I can pat the staff here at Playa Vista on the back for getting out and finding ways of being creative,” said Atkinson, who noted that while budgets were bruised, there was an increase in support for the library during the Great Recession.

“Patrons were cleaning house on their collections so we had some great donations from people downscaling from their condos and homes,” he continued. “They really came forward with some outstanding gifts, including donations of books that were current and popular.”

A few years ago, Playa Vista branch resurfaced from troubled economic times thanks to a boost from city Measure L, which aimed to reestablish library funding at pre-Recession levels.

“Measure L allowed us to restore our acquisitions and update our technology and acquire electronic books. We were able to start hiring part time. Now we’re hiring full-time employees again,” Atkinson said.

The library has become more robust in other ways, too.

“This was so supposed to be an empty nest community,” Atkinson said of the young singles and retirees Playa Vista originally attracted. “Given the housing shortage on the Westside, it turned out this was a real bonanza. So many young couples have stayed on to create families.”

Atkinson, who said his branch also draws residents of Del Rey, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Inglewood, has seen enrollment for seasonal reading clubs spike to 300 to 400 children and 100 teens in the past few summers.

He gives many other examples of what sets Playa Vista apart from other branches in the Los Angeles Public Library system.

One is George Fisher — a Westchester-based physicist whose career began around the time NASA did —who leads monthly “Explorations in Science” and “Conversations in Science” presentations on biology, physics and anthropology that feature people with PhDs in these fields.

There’s also Coding Club, in which pre-teens and teens learn how to create their own smartphone apps (“We had a guest speaker from Google talk about programming,” Atkinson said), a Storytellers and Readers (STAR) club, a Mystery Book Club (for adults), Third Tuesday Book Club (revisiting classic works) and the Westside Urban Book Club (focused on urban fiction in the “Scandal” vein).

Atkinson remembers library board member Ben Eubanks turning up three years ago to lead a chess club with “nobody there.”

But, “Within a few months, we had 25 kids,” Atkinson said. “Since then, Ben has expanded into the Venice community. Now the Playa Vista chess club competes with Venice and there’ve been tournaments at LMU [and USC].”

For Atkinson, the most rewarding aspect has been “seeing these kids who came in as children are now in college.”

The 10th anniversary celebration runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Playa Vista Library, 6400 Playa Vista Drive, Playa Vista. Call (310) 437-6680 or visit