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20 Under 30: Eileen Ybarra

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Happy Summer Solstice! Summer is finally here. It's time to chill out, take a vacation, sit on the beach and get lost in a good book. Angelenos are lucky to have so many literary choices and librarians like Eileen Ybarra, a young adult librarian at the Los Angeles Central Library, to guide our tastes. As Eileen notes below, the library is still one of the best places to access information, preserve free speech and celebrate the life of the mind.

Age and Occupation:
Young Adult Librarian, 28 years old

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do
you live in?: I've lived in L.A. County my whole life, born and raised. I’ve lived in Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Boyle Heights, West Covina, Whittier, Pico Rivera, Palms, and Pasadena. I currently live in Glendale.

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Why do you live in Los Angeles?
I used to think it was just because I wanted to stay close to my friends and family, but after doing a little traveling, I realize that L.A. is as much a part of who I am as anything else. If I leave L.A. it's like leaving a part of me behind. I think L.A. allows people the freedom to be who they want to be, and to be untethered in a way that is not possible in many other places.

Why are you a young adult librarian?
I became a librarian to help people foster a sense of self-empowerment within them. I also was attracted to librarianship because of the sense of freedom, exploration and intellectual curiosity that is possible through using the library. With teens that process is a lot more fun and interesting. They tend to be enthusiastic about their interests and are still open to learning and knowledge. I really enjoy how straightforward and direct they tend to be too. They like what they like and are not shy about letting their preferences be known. I find that teens are often most concerned about having fun and being engaged. I like being around that kind of energy.

Is LA a town of readers?
I think that the continual success of the LAPL branches renovation and re-openings show the support and pride that people here take in learning and growing through reading. The annual Festival of Books also points to this fact.

How much power does a librarian have to shape people's reading habits or tastes?

I think a librarian's purpose in influencing people's reading habits or tastes are two-fold: 1) a librarian may guide, advise and deepen someone's already existing literary tastes 2) a librarian can also introduce a reader to completely different genres and books which they may have not previously known about, or weren't sure if they would've liked in the past. In youth services, that influence tends to be a little bit more obvious, since librarians may do story times for children, and introduce new books to children and teens through school visits and class field trips to the library. However, the library can also do this for adults, through having programs that highlight authors and their new books, writing clubs, poetry readings and other such events. Additionally, librarians answer questions all the time that basically come down to "I'm looking for something good to read, what do you recommend?" I think a librarian can influence people's reading habits tastes in many ways, sometimes subtly or more overtly.

What's the most popular young adult books right now?
Meg Cabot's books are very popular. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes novels are very well liked too. I'd say the most popular genres at Teen'Scape are horror and 'chick-lit.' But, the absolute most popular books right now are Japanese graphic novels: manga. Dragon Ball Z, Fruit Baskets, Full Metal Panic, etc are all very popular at Teen'Scape. This summer, our teen summer reading program is being done in partnership with TokyoPop, and the theme is "There is a Little Bit of Manga in Everyone."

What is something about your library that most people don't know?
I don't think that most people realize that the 20th anniversary of the LAPL central library fire has just passed. It happened on April 29th, 1986. That fire was the biggest and most extensive library fire in American history.

What are your favorite young adult books right now?
Heavy Metal and You by Chris Krovatin and Sandpiper by Ellen Wittinger.

What are your favorite young adult books set in LA?
Pretty much anything by Francesca Lia Block and Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci.

What is your favorite library in Los Angeles County?
The library I work for, Central Library. I'm not just saying that because I work there either! It is the largest public library in the county, it's beautiful, historical and you can pretty much find just about any book you would want or need there. We've got two art galleries as well.

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What do you think of the "Opal Metha Got Kissed" plagiarism scandal?
I understand where the public outrage comes from. But, I do feel a lot of compassion for the author, she is only 19 years old, and though I find plagiarism offensive, I don't think she deserves the bashing that I think she is getting in the press.

Do you help kids with their homework?
We help them find any resource that they need to complete their homework. Not just books, but also magazine and journal articles, and assistance with navigating the subscription databases that we have. We also provide advice and guidance in locating appropriate websites. We provide study areas and computers for kids to use as well. Currently, we do not have tutoring services available at Central library, but we are more than happy to assist anyone in finding and locating a tutoring service or center.

What's the funniest thing someone has asked you in your capacity as a librarian?

Once I got this reference question on how to handle a Christmas gift dispute. This patron explained to me that she stole a gift from her 3-year-old nephew at Christmas because she didn't like the gift she was given. He got a flashlight and she got a Target gift card and in her words she 'hated it.' She said she preferred the little flashlight he had so she took it from him. This was over the phone, and at the time I was thinking, "why didn't she just go buy a flashlight with her Target gift card?" She wanted advice on how to handle the situation with the nephew's parents. It was awkward to say the least!

What is one thing adults misunderstand about youth today?
I think that sometimes there is a lack of empathy that adults have towards teens. I find that sometimes adults approach teens as if they are from a totally different world. There tends be some mistrust, and it's important for adults to understand that teens need places to learn, explore and have fun. There is a dearth of places nowadays for teens to hang out in and be safe while having fun. I'm glad I work in a place, which allows teens to learn, talk to their friends, and relax, in a secure environment.

What in LA inspires you?
I am inspired by beautiful places, and I've had the fortune of working in some of the greatest libraries this country has to offer, from the Central Library to the Getty Research Institute. Going to work in a beautiful, intellectually stimulating environment is inspirational.

What stores do you like to shop in when you are in LA?
I like my indy bookstores and record stores: The Bodhi Tree and Amoeba.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
I think Entourage is really good and my new favorite movie based in L.A. is Shop Girl. I don't know of anyone besides Steve Martin who makes films where L.A. is shown as a place where magical, romantic possibilities await. L.A. Story was whimsical but Shop Girl is even more so.

Best LA-themed book(s)?
I'm really into reading non-fiction, so I'd have to say "City of Quartz" by Mike Davis. Controversial, but a classic.

What's your favorite beach in SoCal and why?
I'd say my favorite beaches are Zuma Beach, Huntington Beach, and the beaches in Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Carlsbad. I like them all because of family memories and good times with friends. All sentimental reasons actually. But if I had to pick just one, I'd say Laguna Beach. Doing the grunion run there is fun.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
This is so trite, but I don't do much walking in L.A. ! Yes, I am a sucker for my car. But, I like walking in Little Tokyo, Olvera Street and walking around Central Library in Downtown on my lunch hour. There's a pretty water fountain across the street from the library, and I especially like walking up and down 5th street on Wednesday afternoons during the weekly Farmer's Market.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Downtown L.A.

What is the center of LA for children?
Unfortunately, I don't think there is a true center for kids here, as anybody else would tell you, this city is pretty de-centralized.

Is there a "Los Angeles child" personality?
I don't there is a typical L.A. child personality. This city is so incredibly diverse, a child from Brentwood or from Watts or from Sylmar are all living in very different neighborhoods, exposed to very different experiences. I don't think any child here can be put into any particular type.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
At this point, I'd take a house in Silverlake. Cool neighborhood, close to work and I'd still be on the east side. Well, relatively east side, but that's good enough for me.

People stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you find it challenging to make new friends here?

I understand why people think that, and I think there is some truth to that assessment. The way the city is spread out, the de-centralization and lack of a comprehensive public transit system along the lines of many East Coast cities...all these aspects make it more challenging to meet people, especially for those that are not native Angelenos. I could see why people who aren't originally from her find this place really tough socially. But, it's only partially true. There is every kind of person here you could think of, any type of sub-culture, group or interest someone could be into. I think once you find a group of people, a few friends here and there, it gets easier.

What is the city's greatest secret?
What I love about Los Angeles is that it is so secretive and misunderstood. It's a mysterious place, often mistaken for just being shallow and all surfaces. But there is a lot underneath that surface, hence all those great noir novels and movies about L.A. L.A. is so multi-layered and faceted; people just don't get it if you are here for just a few days or even if you spend your entire life in just one neighborhood or one part of the city. But, once you find L.A. for yourself, it is a city that keeps revealing itself to you, over and over again in new and surprising ways. I've lived in this area my whole and I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface.

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