The East L.A. Bookstore That Acts Like a Library Annex

A lending library and used bookstore in L.A.'s Boyle Heights is serving a community when the local library can't.

The bookstore Libros Schmibros is located on a block of buildings in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights that's far better known for its greasy burritos than it is for literary culture. But David Kipen's tiny bookshop with the funny name is quite obviously not a pretentious place for out-of-work writers to sneer at the covers of novels. Instead, he's cultivating a new kind of enthusiasm for reading with personal recommendations and a sense of community that cash-strapped local libraries can't always provide.

Kipen, a self-professed "white guy with Yale Spanish," has created the closest thing to a public square for the local, mostly Latino community—a place where people feel just as comfortable camping out for the free wi-fi as they do stopping in just to use the restroom (as a patron does during our conversation). It's all the same to him, says Kipen, as long as they're reading. "Job number one is to get books into people's homes."

As a book critic and author, Kipen had grown up in L.A. but went to D.C. to launch The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts program that challenged residents of cities across the country to read books together. When he came back to L.A., he was exploring new places to live when he stumbled into Boyle Heights, one of L.A.'s oldest and most diverse neighborhoods. "I felt right at home, in a neighborhood that had not even been on my radar."

He moved in, but without a key part of his existence: The approximately 6,000 books he had been keeping in storage. When he toured the empty storefront adjacent to his apartment, he realized that the books could be a kind of welcome gift for his new neighbors. "I thought, 'rather than pay the storage fees why not share them with the neighborhood?'" Kipen opened the store rather symbolically on July 19, the day that the local branch of the Los Angeles Public Library down the street announced it would be closed on Mondays.

If you're from the neighborhood, you can borrow up to five books for a few weeks for $1.00 apiece, a figure which Kipen admits is more of a suggested donation. But that's when something happens, he says. He'll lend the book to an adult, and sometimes they'll come back with their children; a teenager will return with his parents. The little wooden table at the center of the space can be populated by four different generations speaking four different languages, perusing everything from fine art coffee table books to Agatha Christie murders translated into Spanish.

The mismatched, often rickety shelves reveal a collection that's extremely comprehensive for its size. The holdings run deep in California and Los Angeles books, and he's got the classics as well as works of contemporary fiction. The entire operation is volunteer-run, and Kipen is looking for more literary-minded team members who can do everything from reshelve books to plan events and readings that draw new faces into the space. Currently, he's only open four days a week.

As we're talking, an older woman in a red cardigan wanders into the store, looking a little lost. "Español?" she asks. Kipen guides her to a short stack at the center of the store, and by way of demonstration, professes his only shortcoming: The lack of Spanish-language books. With so few bookstores anywhere in L.A. that serve the Spanish-speaking population, he hopes to become the city's first fully bilingual bookstore. What he needs are the titles themselves that can broaden his offerings. Lately his multicultural collection has benefitted, indirectly, from the collapse of chain bookstores: The Pasadena branch of Borders passed along shelves of its Spanish-language books when they closed.

The woman chooses five books and makes her way to the front of the store where Kipen takes down her information and returns to our chat, smiling. That's a perfect example of why the Libros Schmibros lending library model works so well in fulfilling his primary goal, he says: Keeping most books rental-only helps him make sure each book can serve the most people possible. But that's not the only upside to lending, says Kipen, with a grin. "The other great thing, of course, is that you get to see people again in three weeks."

Live in Los Angeles? Find out about people, places, and ideas that are moving Los Angeles forward by becoming a member of GOOD LA. And join us on Facebook and Twitter.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.


In the category of "claims to fame nobody wants," the United States can now add "exporter of white supremacist ideology" to its repertoire. Super.

Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made this claim in a briefing at The Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. "For almost two decades, the United States has pointed abroad at countries who are exporters of extreme Islamist ideology," Travers said. "We are now being seen as the exporter of white supremacist ideology. That's a reality with which we are going to have to deal."

Keep Reading Show less

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News