Lucille Cappas, head librarian at the Venice Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library, has 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 said she was also fortunate to have had a mentor – a librarian at the El Marino Library in Culver City, which is no longer in existence.
Cappas was born in Los Angeles, has lived in Venice from a very young age and graduated from Notre Dame High School. Her two children are Venice High School graduates, and she has spoken in favor of the school based on their experiences and those of other students whom she has worked with. The school has also recognized the efforts of Cappas.
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.
The alumni association chose to recognize the contribution Cappas made, and continued to make, to its school. It was their way of showing gratitude for her work with the school for 18 years. The librarian has interacted with the school in a variety of ways, from visiting classrooms to employing students at the library, and many students still volunteer and do special projects.
In February, Cappas celebrated 40 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 28 years ago, she “knew she was home.” She notes there have been quite a few changes since that time, the most prominent being the construction of a new library at Venice Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, which provides more room to house books and seat readers.
The advent of the Internet has produced a new kind of client and changes have been made to accommodate this need, she said.
“We have people from all over the world who stay at Venice hostels coming in to use the computers,” Cappas says. 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.” She reports that the 10 computer stations are in constant use.
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-visuals 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, she explained.
Cappas praises the participation of the Friends. “We are very fortunate at this library because we have an active board,” she says. “We always have eight to 10 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 like helping to set up and pack books for the book sales. Yearly dues start at $10, which Cappas said is an affordable way for members to support the local library. There is a new group website at www.fovl.org.
The Friends return the praise to Cappas. Lenore Ritkes, who served as Friends president for 10 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 for all she serves.”
The library additionally offers special programs for all ages starting with toddler stories and songs. A young adult librarian puts together special summer programs for teens. There are a variety of programs for adults too. “We try to find topics that will be of interest to the community,” says Cappas.
The head librarian 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.”
Community members are also appreciative of Cappas’ contributions. Businesswoman Carol Tantau sums it up when she 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, Oakwood United, LAPD basic car meetings, visiting politicians, the Venice Historical Society and the countless other organizations and events who would/could not survive without her help.”
One of Cappas’ hobbies for many years has been traveling – to places like Turkey, Thailand, Eastern Europe and, most recently, southern Africa. Following her upcoming retirement she plans to do additional traveling as well as keep up with her gardening, spend more time with family and friends and take classes including Tai Chi.
Friends of the Venice Library will honor Cappas to acknowledge her unparalleled service to the library and the Venice community at an invitation only event.