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In our pages: David Kipen's Libros Schmibros lending library

November 8, 2010 |  5:08 pm

Librosschmibros

It's located in the shadow of a freeway, behind a row of industrial-size windows on the corner of 1st and Cummings streets in eastern Los Angeles: Libros Schmibros, a new lending library. If it's open, you'll find proprietor David Kipen there.

Kipen, the former director of literature at the National Endowment for the Arts, returned to his native Los Angeles after the Big Read, the program he ran, shrank with the change of administration. Opening a lending library in a neighborhood like Boyle Heights -- the stretch of 1st Street between the Mariachi Plaza subway stop and the Benjamin Franklin branch of the Los Angeles Public Library has both empty shops and colorful storefronts -- is an unexpected move for a onetime Washington literary insider.

In Tuesday's paper, Reed Johnson writes about Kipen's hopes for Libros Schmibros and how the venture is being embraced by the community.

"It was always a quixotic idea," said Kipen, 47, a graduate of Beverly Hills High and Yale, who initially stocked his new venture with his personal library of several thousand volumes. "It just seemed like the barriers to entry for a library and a book-lending business would never be lower.

"What's not to like is that my bank account is going down and down and down," Kipen said while guiding a visitor around his store, a 1,400-square-foot labyrinth of old movie posters, ergonomically incorrect chairs and roughly 7,000 books, many of them stuffed into cases snapped up from defunct establishments such as Acres of Books, the legendary Long Beach used-book store. "What's to like is that people in the neighborhood really seem to appreciate this."

Elvis Lopez, 17, a Mendez Learning Center student toting a copy of "Dante's Inferno," explained why he regularly cruises the merchandise at Libros Schmibros and sometimes helps shelve books. "It opens up a new world," he said, "because the library kind of sucks. All the books aren't even interesting, most of them. And if they [are], they're usually checked out or been stolen."

Libros Schmibros opened its doors July 19, the day that the L.A. Public Library implemented its five-days-a-week schedule. Books are free to borrow, and they sell for $1 to $1.50 (more if they're first editions). Kipen is flexible: The store is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., and by appointment "or rapping on the glass."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Rafael Cardenas, left, borrows books from David Kipen at Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights. Credit: Anne Cusack /Los Angeles Times

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