Turning Santa Ana’s Libraries into Community Centers – David Lopez (POY 05)

David Lopez is a technology librarian in Santa Ana who enjoys helping people. Hear him talk about his work, his love for his city, and what motivates him.

David Lopez is a technology librarian in Santa Ana who enjoys helping people. Hear him talk about his work, his love for his city, and what motivates him.

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Santa Ana Public Library

David Lopez

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This transcript may differ in minor instances from the audio content. Please notify Josh Morgan of any errors you may find.

Monologue by Josh Morgan

This is The Plural of You, a podcast about people helping people. I’m Josh Morgan.

David Lopez is an award-winning technology librarian in Santa Ana, California. He’s been active in developing youth and technology programs in Santa Ana for several years, both through the city’s public library and by volunteering in his spare time. He is also active in promoting information and library services among Spanish speakers throughout the country, because they are often underserved in these areas. His résumé is a testament to his compassion and his commitment to the people in his city and beyond. I talked with him recently via Skype, and I’ll play that conversation in a moment.

David is on the front line of a field that is going through some exciting transitions due to technology. In reading about libraries for this episode, I found a report from the Institute of Data and Library Services, which keeps statistics on the nation’s libraries. It says that printed materials made up 92 percent of collections in the nation’s libraries in 2002, and only 78 percent in 2012. Ebooks were barely a blip in 2002, but had risen to roughly 9 percent of library collections ten years later.

The report shows that the number of programs offered per library has also increased, while the number of librarians per capita has declined. Libraries receive most of their funding from local governments, but states have been funding libraries less, about 42 percent less over that 10-year period, and that means libraries are looking more and more for other sources of funding. In many ways, librarians are being expected to do more with less. David told me that, in his library, he and his coworkers have compensated by becoming more versatile in their roles, but he seemed to enjoy the challenge.

The American Library Association argues that all people should have access to the information they need, and that’s what the presence of libraries like David’s represents. They also offer social benefits as a third place, which is the term to describe places other than home or work where people can gather and socialize.

Studies have shown that libraries have significant effects on the wellness of our communities and among those of us who use them. A Norwegian professor named Andreas Varheim observed in a study of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. that the use of public library services had positive effects on their trust in others. A Canadian professor named Catherine A. Johnson also found that library use had some positive effects on trust and civic participation, and that there is a relationship between library use and social capital, which refers to the social resources that we have access to. Other researchers have argued that libraries are objectively positive due to their effects on us. By that logic, libraries should be some of the least controversial agencies to receive public support.

So back to David. David was actually kind enough to talk with me for this episode twice. I goofed and forgot to record our first conversation, but he agreed to try again. I’ll let you hear how our second conversation went. The audio quality isn’t the best, but I think you’ll like what he has to say. Here’s David Lopez, Technology Librarian at the Santa Ana Public Library.

Interview with David Lopez

JM: Hi, David. I am so sorry about the other day.

DL: No, no worries.

JM: I hope you don’t mind talking about some of the same stuff again.

DL: That’s cool. I’ll just pretend like it’s the first time. [laughs]

JM: [laughs] Well, thank you for doing this again with me. So let’s start at the beginning: What’s a typical day like for you at the library?

DL: Basically, no two days are the same. I come in and the majority of my day is supervising the library programming and services at one of our community centers. That’s Garfield Community Center. That’s a joint venture with the city and the school district. Aside from that, I also help monitor and maintain all of the agency’s social media accounts and certain websites and blogs.

When we have them, I process all of the film permits for the City of Santa Ana. Any films or TV shows or reality shows that are coming in through the city, they’ll apply through the city [and] I’m the one that receives that paperwork. I process it, and I issue them an application.

Other than that, I’m also a reference librarian on occasion, I manage a library collection, and I help mentor the youth here in the Digital Media program.

JM: What inspired you to get into this line of work?

DL: I kind of grew up in the library. My aunt and my sister worked in a library for the majority of my childhood. It was actually the library that was really close to our neighborhood, so a lot of my summers and days after school and weekends were at the library reading, taking part in special events, summer reading programs, getting tutoring, volunteering. It was kind of already ingrained in me, or beat over my head, I guess, as I was a kid.

It wasn’t until I left high school that a job opening came up here at the library, and I applied because I thought, “Hey, I have some really cool memories about the library, so why not apply?” My aunt was still currently working at the library, so I got into it. It wasn’t until I finished my first Master’s degree that at the library they kind of urged me or invited me to really consider pursuing a degree in libraries. It wasn’t something that I had ever really imagined, kind of like an accidental career for me, but it was really something that was before me at all times. I wasn’t paying attention, so that’s kind of how it happened.

JM: What kind of subjects did you study while you were going for your Master’s [degree] in Library Science?

DL: The Library Science program has all different types of paths or avenues you can take. You can become an archivist, you can work in public libraries, you can work in academic libraries and school libraries. You can focus on teaching, you can focus on working with diverse communities. It’s everything.

For me, specifically, I found that I would gravitate more toward the coursework that was more focused on working with diverse communities, specifically English learners and immigrant communities just because I already knew that from working here in Santa Ana. For me, that’s kind of what I enjoyed. I didn’t realize there was so much social work involved in being a librarian, where you have to really have to get to know a community in order to be able to serve them properly.

JM: You know, you mentioned the last time we talked that social work was a big part of what you do. I guess I never thought of it that way, but in thinking about libraries as community hubs, that makes sense.

DL: Definitely. I know that there are people coming in who may be in the city all by themselves, and they don’t have anywhere to turn to or anyone to ask questions. They come, some of them even without knowing what to say or what to do. You have to kind of make them feel at ease and help them get to where they need to go by really communicating with them, essentially breaking them down in the most vulnerable places.

Some people that come in are getting evicted from their houses and they need resources, they need to know where they are going to spend the night next week. They need to apply for housing, they need to apply for jobs. Some people come in and they need to take food handlers’ tests. We get a lot of people that work in food service here.

Like I mentioned, day by day we get so many different scenarios. We work with a lot of [the] homeless population, as well. You need to kind of learn how to understand and maybe use what you have within reach to be able to provide the best possible service for them.

JM: I imagine you provide more than just English-language services.

DL: Yeah. About 80 percent of our population here in Santa Ana is Latino and immigrant populations, so a great majority is Spanish-speaking. Santa Ana has one of the most extensive, if not the most extensive, Spanish-language collections in all of Orange County. Our Adult Services librarian and our Children’s librarian, who focus on Spanish-language text, are really great at getting the best possible work here into the library for our patrons.

We have books that are internationally published that are published specifically for Spanish readers. Sometimes with translations, you lose a lot of the real meaning of the text or book, so it’s vital to pay attention to those types of things when working with Spanish speakers, or people who are learning Spanish, as well.

Not just that, but we also provide Spanish-language computer workshops. All of our staff is bilingual. They are required to bilingual in either Spanish or Vietnamese because we do have a small community that is Vietnamese-speaking. We kind of have to be versatile and be on our toes and be ready to answer in English, Spanish, or Vietnamese, or even sometimes people who come in that need sign language. Even though we don’t know sign language, we do the best we can to be able to get them what they need.

JM: Are there any services that you would like to provide, but you can’t? Maybe a better question is: are there any services that you are currently working on that you’re planning to implement soon?

DL: I don’t think we can say that we can’t do any programs or services because I think there’s always a possibility. There’s always opportunities for grants. We should always be open-minded to bringing something in that’s new.

I think something that I would like to personally work on is possibly having film screenings or a film festival, something of that nature that’s in English, Spanish, even Vietnamese. I have a background in film, so that’s really near and dear to my heart. I think that is something I would like to share with the community.

I’ve also seen in other libraries, they have something called a human library. Have you heard of a human library?

JM: No, I haven’t.

DL: Basically, they have a catalog of people that are volunteers from the community. Maybe you are a doctor or a police officer, a crossing guard, teacher, nurse. You have them pledge to volunteer some time and they come in to the library. You basically catalog them in a book, and people can come into the library with their library card and check out a human book—somebody who is an expert maybe on doing podcasts. You would check them out for maybe an hour and have really a one-on-one conversation with them.

I think it’s really important to not forget that there are people in the community who are so knowledgeable and experienced in certain things, something that you definitely can’t find in a book. It’s so helpful to have somebody give you a first-hand account of something that they have done or they have been successful at. We don’t have anything planned like that at our library, but that is something I would like to maybe try here. Our community would really value something like that. You know, sometimes it’s easier to talk to a person than to read a book.

JM: That’s such a great idea, but how would you go about starting something like that?

DL: It would take a lot of planning. You would definitely need to do a lot of recruitment and a call for volunteers, and get people to be as passionate about the project as you. Once you have a line of volunteers, I would then continue to catalog. I would collect everybody’s bios, what their interests are, what their strengths are, then you put it all together and you do heavy promotion.

Promotion is always key in anything related to a library. Sometimes we’ll have a story time with one person, sometimes we’ll have a story time with almost a hundred kids or a hundred people. It really just depends on how well it’s promoted and marketed, and what the theme is. Like in anything, you know, it’s whatever is selling. It’s business at the end of the day.

JM: Right, right. You really seem to embrace your library’s role as a community center. Why do you think you believe in that so strongly?

DL: My parents immigrated here from Mexico, and they basically were very limited on the types of resources that they had for our family. I’m the youngest of four, but even though I’m kind of like at the end of that spectrum—my older siblings didn’t really have a lot of knowledge in terms of what the community had to offer.

Had my parents maybe—and I grew up in the library, and it wasn’t until my older siblings were older that I kind of started to get involved in libraries. If my parents starting off in their marriage and their family had taken advantage of what a library could have offered to them, I don’t know what they could have done with their own lives. A lot of times, even parents who aren’t immigrants, but immigrant parents sacrifice so much of themselves so they can get their kids out there and expose them to what the world has to offer.

A library is that place. It’s really the hub, like you said, where you can access information. You can get connected to people across the world, where you can learn something brand new. If we don’t have that service or that type of connection with the community, then we are not doing our job.

JM: Earlier you mentioned the Garfield Center. What kind of services do you provide there?

DL: Sure. The Garfield Community Center, like I mentioned, it’s just been open for a little over a year. It’s a joint youth facility. It was an agreement between the school district and the City of Santa Ana. Basically, it works two ways. The school uses the bottom portion of the center throughout the school day. The kids have their recitals there, they have assemblies, teachers have their meetings. It’s basically their multi-purpose room.

Throughout the day, the upstairs portion—it’s a two-story facility—is programmed for the City of Santa Ana. We have state-of-the-art audio, A.V. equipment, and a computer lab there for the public to use. We have twenty Mac computers where people can come in and use it as a computer lab. They have access to Internet WiFi. They can print. We are also offering video production classes. They can come in, they can Skype themselves. They can learn how to type, they can take computer classes.

Also, we have a tutoring center where the kids can come in after school and they can get tutoring. Those are all bilingual tutors in English and in Spanish, and I think some of them also speak Vietnamese. On the other side, we have the Parks division who is there. They offer karate, Zumba, gymnastics, yoga.

JM: Oh, cool.

DL: We’re trying to really tap into the community’s needs as best as we can.

JM: I imagine you started with a set of core services. Are there any services that you are offering as a result of community feedback?

DL: Yeah, definitely. Originally, that place was supposed to be like a headquarters for our city cable channel.

JM: Oh, okay.

DL: We do have ownership of that channel: CTV3, City of Santa Ana. We basically do community programming. We go out to community events, we film them. We do PSAs, we do special events. The Garfield Center was really meant to be that core. We have video production equipment, lightboxes, sound equipment. All of the computers are equipped with video editing software. That was originally the plan. We still are doing that by offering workshops and opening it up to the community.

What you begin to notice when you provide a service to the people is they will kind of dictate the way that things are going to go. It’s kind of like, you have this and yes, they will like this, and they will appreciate it, but what they really need is this other thing. I think it’s really our duty to move in the direction that the community needs us to go.

If they want English classes—maybe we don’t teach English classes. We should really figure out how to do that so they can have it. A lot of our communities [are] very low income, so they don’t have the means to go and pay to use Rosetta Stone or to take a private tutor lesson. We have to really take that into account and mold our services and programs for that.

JM: I like that your library in particular embraces this role as a technology hub. It’s like you said, people in your area may not have access to those resources otherwise.

DL: Yeah, and it’s really strange, you know? In lots of places across the world, people are still not up to speed with technology or what’s going on. People refuse to even get on board. I notice that it’s like a generational thing [and] also a cultural thing.

In our community, we do have a huge divide. There are a lot of families who don’t have Internet or computers at home, and they come here because this is where they need to go so that they can access those things. The first step is to educate them, to expose them and educate them and show them that a computer is more than just Internet browsing, more than just watching YouTube. It’s more than just typing a letter—or that a computer can organize your life. You can use it for so many different ways.

It’s about educating them and having them appreciate technology, and make it so that it becomes a part of their life and benefits them.

JM: I found out about you because you recently won the I Love My Librarian Award.

DL: Yes.

JM: …which seems to be a pretty prestigious award in your field. I was wondering if you could tell me what the process was like when you found out you were going to win this award.

DL: Sure. I was nominated by a great friend of mine, Sara Rafael García. She is the founder of a youth writing program here in Orange County. It’s called Barrio Writers. I met her in 2010, and she’s kind of been my writing buddy and my confidant. In some instances, I have helped by being a writing advisor to her group, and I’m a huge advocate and supporter of the things that they do.

I invited her to come and do a writing workshop at Garfield last year. When she came in, we had this really great experience together. We noticed that one of the patrons had come in, and he had requested if we would help him to Skype with someone. That wasn’t a service we provided because we didn’t know that anyone needed to Skype, so we said, “Why not?”

We downloaded Skype, and we watched this man contact and see his mother on video, who he had not seen in twenty years. He was switching from Spanish to Zapoteco, which is a native dialect of Mexico. We were just really touched, she as much as I was—surprised at how, even though we are still doing what we are doing, every day we learn and we witness something more spectacular. This man is in his sixties, and he didn’t realize that he could do that here at the library.

I think that sharing that with her really kind of inspired her, and she submitted the nomination on my behalf—not just for the work I do in the library, but for the volunteer work I do.

I was also at the time writing a column in the local newspaper for the Orange County Register called “Life in the Golden City”. That was the name of the column. That focused on all positive stories about the city’s culture, arts, businesses, education. That came also from my pride of the city and how I wanted to really give good news all of the time. I’m so tired of seeing all of this bad news.

JM: Right.

DL: I thought, ‘How can we be better people if we are always getting bogged down for the bad stuff?’ That’s kind of how that came about.

A few weeks before the award, I received a call from Barbara Stripling, who was the past ALA President. She called me and let me know that I had been selected. That was a nice surprise and a great highlight of my career thus far, and a very happy experience. I met a lot of wonderful librarians from across the U.S., people who were very deserving.

It was very inspiring, and it looks great for the library to be able to say that we are doing something with the community, with whatever means we have.

JM: What other kinds of activities are you involved in on the side?

DL: I am very active in REFORMA. REFORMA is the national association to promote library and information services to Latinos and Spanish-speaking.

I was introduced to REFORMA through a coworker of mine, who is now the current national president, actually. She invited me to join several years ago while we were going through a grant here at work. It has really opened my eyes to what’s going on in the library field, and in work with at-risk minorities and populations.

I’m the current president of the Orange County chapter. We have twenty chapters throughout the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico.

It’s really meeting people that you can relate to. By that, I mean people who have been through similar things as you because they come from a similar background. A lot of Latino librarians are still underrepresented in libraries today because we don’t have enough of them to really help with Spanish-speaking America.

JM: Oh, I never thought about that.

DL: So we really focus on promoting and heightening library programming and services for people across the U.S. and Latin America, and building that international connection with Latin American countries so that we can essentially make people feel comfortable here and educate them, and really instill that love of literacy and higher education in our young people and people who are pursuing a career in any field.

It’s a really cool organization. We have an upcoming national conference in San Diego, California, and it’s going to be really great. There’s going to be a lot of librarians from all around coming through and learning so much that the field has to offer. It’s great for students, it’s great for people who are not librarians. Library advocates are certainly also invited.

JM: What motivates you to focus on the positive? I think the other day you said you believe strongly in the pay it forward philosophy. What motivates you to pursue this mindset?

DL: I had a very happy childhood. I remember that I was super creative. I still have some of that creativity, but we are never the way we were when we were kids. I remember that I was never told that I couldn’t do something. My parents were always huge supporters of following your heart and doing what makes you happy.

I think that, because of them, and because of the way my siblings embrace the type of people that we are, that’s kind of been the catalyst for me going out and telling people, “Hey, you can do anything you set your mind to.” As cliché as that is, it’s true. You can get somebody who really is down on themselves and kind of help them transform themselves just by giving them a little pep talk, or giving them a little bit of support.

Paying it forward, like you mentioned, is such a huge part of everyone’s life in any part of the world. I think if you do something nice for someone or help someone by just lending them a hand with whatever it may be, it’s a ripple effect. That person will remember that and will maybe be inspired to do the same thing for someone else. I don’t think any bad can come from helping someone.

I always—in the people that I serve every day, I always see my parents, my elders, and I always think about how, in a part of my parents’ lives, they may have needed something similar to what this person needs. I feel it’s my job, it’s my duty, to be able to help this person because I can. If I can’t, it’s my job to find out how I can or to get them to somebody who can. That’s mainly why I’m in this line of work is because of my interactions with other people.

JM: You seem to have a real fondness for Santa Ana and the people who live there. Why do you think that is?

DL: You know, it’s my home. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m not saying that I would never live anywhere else. It’s just—I’ve had some great experiences here. I’ve met some wonderful friends that I will have forever. My relatives are here. I have had some phenomenal teachers who have really opened my mind to the possibilities of the world.

I can never say that there’s anything negative I feel for the city. It has its bad qualities like any other city in the world, but I think it’s the duty of the residents, of the employees, of the people who interact with a city to kind of lift it up and really make it better. If we have this negative mentality, or if we have this, like, continuous sob story about where we are, where we grew up, we’re not going to progress. We’re not going to be better people by putting ourselves down.

I have always supported Santa Ana. If ever I don’t work here or if ever I don’t live here, I will definitely still appreciate and celebrate Santa Ana for how culturally diverse and how rich in art and business it is. It’s still thriving and it’s so young.

There’s so much going on here. I invite you to come and check it out. It’s a great downtown, and there’s so much going on here.

JM: It seems like there’s a real sense of community pride in Santa Ana that I wasn’t aware of.

DL: There definitely is. There are some nonprofit groups that are really active and passionate about the work that they do with the community and educating the young people, educating the seniors, educating each other. There’s a lot of work being done here in and outside of this library. I’m really proud of the city, and I’m proud of the work that we do here at the library.

JM: Where do you see your library’s role in your community’s future going forward?

DL: The library is the heart of a community. It should be, at least, because this is like the starting point for everyone that is coming here [and] meeting from different paths. I really think that the library can be that on a bigger scope for this city going forward. We’re growing in numbers exponentially every year, and our population is very young. I really think that it would be important to expand our library services, whether it be in a satellite location or opening up more libraries, or having a bookmobile, I think it’s really important to focus on that.

We shouldn’t be taking away resources, we shouldn’t be closing libraries. We should be embracing them and opening them up, and finding people to donate and volunteer and really make a name for the library in the community, whether it’s this one or another one.

JM: So there may be some people listening who don’t use their libraries too often. How would you encourage them to use their libraries?

DL: The library is for everyone. Even if you are not a reader, you use a computer on a daily basis, or you need to learn how to find historical archives from your city, or you just want to take your child to hear a song or a story.

I really think it’s important for everyone to visit their library, and if they are not actively going to use it, to at least be advocates, to really spread the word about what the library does and how meaningful it is for this city or their community, whatever their community may be. If they don’t know how to answer somebody’s question, by all means send them to the library because we’ll help them here. If you don’t have a library card, go get one. It’s the first step in being active or at least representing your library whether you use it or not.

JM: You know, that’s a good point, and it makes me realize while we’re talking that using a library is a good first step to being a more active citizen, I guess.

DL: No, for sure. A lot of the funding that comes to libraries is because of statistics, how we’re serving and how we’re meeting the needs of a community. If people don’t come, there’s no need for us. We’re here to serve people—this is why we exist. We want people to come in. We definitely invite everyone to come in to use the library in any capacity, whether it’s just to get out of the rain on a rainy day and come and read a book, come and do it. It means we are doing our job correctly when that happens.

JM: Where do you see the future of your field going in the next few years, and how do you think you will adapt?

DL: Like a lot of other fields, we’re at a crossroads because of technology. A lot of people are saying, “Oh, do libraries still exist?” Well, of course they do. We need them, we use them every day. A lot of libraries are veering away from the Dewey Decimal System. A lot of people are using programs like Find It. It’s like a bookstore, where you go by category instead of by classification.

It’s really quite fascinating and interesting to be able to be a part of this field at such a turning point, where you get the younger generation that is using the library a lot differently than people who were coming in ten, twenty years ago to research. Can you remember the card catalog?

JM: Yup!

DL: [laughs] I do, too! I just can’t imagine how I would have done it. I’m sure I would have figured it out or we would have learned.

JM: [laughs]

DL: But it’s a very interesting time for us to be able to use technology to really strengthen what we do as librarians. It’s interesting, and I find that I’m doing it all the time. If I hear a piece of information, whether I’m at work or not, I need to know what the answer is, so I’m always researching. I’m always trying to find answers.

I think that, as long as people are asking questions, there will be a need for libraries, because that’s part of the human condition to be curious and to want to know and grow and explore. When people stop asking questions, then hey. Maybe that will be the time when we won’t exist, but that’s not going to happen. Everyone always will want to know something.

JM: If listeners want to follow the Santa Ana Public Library online, what would be the best way to do that?

DL: For sure. Our website is We also have a Facebook and Twitter. That’s santaanaprcsa. You can find our YouTube channel at santaanalibrary.

JM: Oh, what’s on the YouTube channel?

DL: That’s actually all of the programming that I supervise here as part of our cable channel. We have community events, we have public service announcements, we have special events here in the library, people that have come in, author visits. We basically have our group of media experts that we have trained here in-house. They go out, they film these events, they edit them here in-house. They put them out for the world to see on YouTube, and they’re on our local cable channel CTV3.

JM: Very cool. Now, what about you? If someone wants to follow you online or get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

DL: For sure. I’m on Facebook and Twitter at DavidLopez85 [Facebook: DavidLopez1985. —Josh], or you can find me on Instagram: mrdavelopez [Instagram: This appears to be incorrect. —Josh], or you can find me on WordPress at mrdavidlopez. My email is davidlopez85 at

JM: Sounds good. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DL: No. Thanks, Josh. I really appreciate you taking the time. I think it’s really important that you’re doing this type of work. This podcast is really awesome, and I wish you the best of luck.

JM: Thank you, and thank you for doing this a second time.

DL: No, for sure. It was better, I think, this time around.

JM: Great! That’s all I had.

DL: Okay, awesome. Thanks, Josh. Have a good one.

Conclusion by Josh Morgan

This episode of The Plural of You was produced by me, Josh Morgan, in snowy Edinboro, Pennsylvania. Mike Martinez created our theme music.

Transcripts and show notes for each episode of The Plural of You, including this one, are at Subscribe by searching for The Plural of You wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re listening through iTunes, please take a moment to rate and review The Plural of You so others can find it, too.

The Plural of You is on Facebook slash pluralofyou and Twitter at pluralofyou, and you can email me at josh at I’d be happy to hear from you.

In closing, here’s a homework assignment.

Make it a point to visit your local library some time soon. You can visit to look for books, DVDs, and other media to borrow at locations near you.

If you can’t think of anything you might need, see if your library has an email newsletter or a social media account you could follow. That way, you’ll be able to keep up with events that might interest you later. Most libraries are staffed by caring people like David, and they would appreciate any support you could offer them—even just stopping by and saying hello on a rainy day.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening.