L.A. MIX PROFILE: Librarian Padmini Prabhakar

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NAOMI HIRAHARA

Oh, what would authors do without librarians and libraries? Most of us devoured books in our youth in libraries. My local library was nestled among deodar cedar trees in Altadena. At the time it was brand spanking new, but now it is decidedly retro-Seventies; the architecture has held up well over time.

Most librarians love mysteries because they are among the most popular books in their libraries. In metropolitan Southern California, libraries frequently hold author talks and some even offer a token honorarium.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to Cerritos Library’s inaugural Mystery on the Menu luncheon event. Cerritos is on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, right next to the Orange Curtain (OC). Known for its excellent school system and large automobile dealership center, Cerritos has definitely been on the fast-track of development, both economic and cultural. I myself was blown away with its state-of-the art library. When I returned home from the event, I told my husband that I would want to move to Cerritos just for the library. Of course, as usual, he thought I was crazy.

Behind the scenes of the spectacular author events at Cerritos Library is Padmini Prabhakar, one of the most thorough and professional librarians I’ve ever encountered. If you are ever in Los Angeles for a book tour, definitely have your publicist or publisher contact Padmini to see if she might be interested in hosting you for an event.

Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you decide that you wanted to become a librarian? Where did you study library science? What other libraries have you worked at and when did you join the Cerritos Library?

I originally come from Chennai, (formerly known as Madras) India. I have lived in Cerritos since 1979. I used to bring my two children to the original Cerritos Library to Storytimes and to check out books. A new wing was added to the Library in 1985. I thought it would be exciting to get a part-time job as my kids were growing up. I applied for the part-time Library Assistant job and was surprised to be hired as I was then a housewife with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany. I was also an Art Consultant at a local elementary school and it was a real challenge working two part-time jobs and taking care of the family. In 1991 I was promoted to the full-time position of Young Adult Librarian to serve the needs of the teens in the community.

When I realized we were remodeling the Cerritos Library, I wanted to be worthy of working in this fabulous building. That’s when I decided to get my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. I graduated from San Jose State University in 2003.

I heard that the Cerritos Library building was made out of titanium? Is that true? Any other nifty trivia about the building? When was it constructed?

The outside of the Cerritos Library is clad in titanium tiles. The Library was the first titanium-clad structure in the United States. Titanium expresses the concept of change as it has subtle color shifts from reflecting the angle of the sun and atmospheric conditions. Titanium also allowed for a fluid design with compound curves. The material suggests the Library’s "Save the Planet" theme as it does not have a negative impact on the environment and is maintenance free.

The library has a series of themed spaces designed to make you feel as if you are journeying through time, from an old world reading room, to a Craftsman style great room, to an art deco area inspired by the old Pan Pacific Auditorium, to the "21st Century" level designed to feel like a library of the future. The children’s area is probably the most impressive. A 15,000-gallon salt water aquarium, complete with sharks, a moray eel, and hundreds of colorful tropical fish is located in the lobby area. Stan, a full scale T-Rex skeleton from the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota, a space shuttle and a rainforest tree are a few special features in the Children’s area. I would like to invite everyone to come visit the Cerritos Library, the world’s first "experience library" and enjoy several commissioned art pieces, including a Chihuly glass sculpture.

When will this year’s Mystery on the Menu be held? What authors will be participating? Why did you decide to launch Mystery on the Menu and who helped you?

The third annual Mystery on the Menu will be held on Saturday, January 27 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. I have confirmed the following authors so far: Sheryl Anderson, Brett Ellen Block, Stephen Cannell, Joanne Fluke, Lee Goldberg, Tod Goldberg, Gar Anthony Haywood, Susan Kandel, Kelly Lange, Robert Levinson, Barbara Seranella and Walter Satterthwait. It is a fun event. I would encourage all mystery buffs to attend.

Couple of years ago, I attended a panel discussion with three mystery authors and I heard about the annual Men of Mystery event with 50 authors. I thought I would invite 10 mystery authors and request the Friends of the Cerritos Library to sponsor the luncheon. President Janice Dawson and other boardmembers were willing to give it a try and because of its success, our second luncheon had 12 authors and I am working on inviting 14 authors for Mystery on the Menu III. The all-day event will start off with the first panel of authors discussing their careers and books followed by a delicious lunch. Next the second panel of authors will address the audience and all the authors will sign their book provided for purchase by Linda Bivens of Crime Time Books.

What suggestions do you have for libraries that may be thinking of integrating mysteries into their programming? How popular are mysteries among your library constituency?

I am finding that most of the authors we host are mystery ones. That tells you that this is the most popular genre in Cerritos. I may also be partial to mystery as I grew up reading Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Librarians who are interested in getting in touch with local mystery authors should contact local bookstores and see who is signing books there. Los Angeles Times Sunday edition’s Book Review section lists author events every week. It is always good to attend some of these events and make contact with the authors or their publicists and let them know that their libraries are interested in hosting them. There is a lot of talent in Southern California and all these authors love to visit libraries.

What advice would you give authors who want to approach libraries about author talks?

I would request all authors to update their websites and keep their contact information and calendar of events current. I am sure your fans would like to come to your programs and meet you in person and discuss what you are planning to write. American Library Association offers a program to its members called authors@your library. Publishers can get in touch with ALA at http://www.authorsatyourlibrary.org/ and register to be part of this program. Very often the Friends of the Library would sponsor author events. This is a great group to get in touch with to schedule visits to libraries. Many of your authors may already be aware of these resources.

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Thank you very much, Padmini!

If you ever have time while you are in Southern California, please visit this magnificent library:

Cerritoslibrary

Cerritos Library

18025 Bloomfield Avenue
Cerritos, California 90703
Phone: (562) 916-1350

If you have ever worked with Padmini and want to sing her praises, please do so in the comments section. And if you have any other fabulous librarians, library events, or plain library memories you want to mention, add them as well. I’ll be continuing this theme of librarians with another profile on Friday. Who will it be? I’ll give you a clue: he’s very gasa-gasa.

11 thoughts on “L.A. MIX PROFILE: Librarian Padmini Prabhakar

  1. Lorraine T.

    What a super post! I’ve loved libraries all my life and would love to visit this one – it sounds incredible. I look forward to reading about another one on Friday.Lorraine

    Reply
  2. Guyot

    In this day of the Internet and instant access to millions of research pages, I still dearly love the library.

    My local library is the one place I go when I absolutely HAVE to get work done. It doesn’t have WI-FI – so I can’t get distracted reading Elaine Flinn posts – but the building is full of all the research I need.

    And librarians are some of the coolest, smartest, and most interesting people on the planet.

    Except that one lady with the blue hair from my high school library. Wuff.

    Reply
  3. Elaine Flinn

    Hi Naomi! So good to have you back again. And hello to Padmini. What an incredible library! I have great memories of my local library when I was growing up – it offered me a world I didn’t know existed – and I’ll always be grateful for that exciting journey.

    And Guyot? Sure, go ahead – blame me. I can’t help it if I’m so alluring. Besides, it’s all your fault anyway – you bring it out in me.

    Reply
  4. pari noskin taichert

    Naomi,How wonderful to read your work here again!

    Thank you for introducing us to Padmini Prabhakar. I hope to meet her and to visit this wonderful library.

    I adore librarians for their intellect, enthusiasm and astounding support. They’re almost all real information-freaks, too — both willing to disseminate and to acquire.

    Whenever I go to a new town to do research, libraries are the first place on my itinerary. In each locale, I’ve met librarians who’ve gone out of their way to give me the local scoop. They’re an incredible boon in our culture.

    Reply
  5. Naomi

    Hey, babies!

    It’s nice to be back. Hope you all are having a great holiday.

    When I was in sixth grade, I thought about becoming a librarian. But one problem, I don’t like to put things back where they belong. That would be one chaotic library. And numbers? My head doesn’t operate in numbers.

    Whether they be state-of-the-art like Cerritos or more low-tech as guyot described, there’s something intoxicating about all those books, both new and old, gathered in one place.

    Reply
  6. pari noskin taichert

    You know . . . I really like how the stacks in libraries smell, too.

    My favorite library so far was the main one at the University of Michigan. You could get lost in it . . .

    I loved the places to study, all that solid marble, the floors and floors of stacks with books you couldn’t possibly imagine anyone would write . . .

    Reply
  7. Mike MacLean

    Great post Naomi. It’s nice to see a library get some credit. So many in the community take the public libraries for granted.

    I worked at a library for much of my college days. I was a page—one of those who worked in the trenches, shelving books. I enjoyed my job, but there were challenges. Many still think of libraries as quiet, wholesome places. Not always true. There was a dark side.

    We had drunks and homeless people wandering the shelves. We had perverts and weirdoes. We had unconscionable organizations abandoning large groups of mentally retarded people at our door with no supervision (and I do literally mean abandon.) We had patrons who would rage against the machine for a $2.00 fine (They’re taxpayers. They have the right to scream at part-time $7.00 an hour, city employees.)

    And worst of all, these days, there are hoards of patrons visiting the library who neither respect nor care about books. Sad but true.

    So thank your local librarian. They have to deal with more than you might think.

    Mike

    PS. I’m writing a novel right now. One of the main characters is a librarian. (Because what big publishing company can resist a story about a librarian?)

    Reply
  8. Sue Ann Jaffarian

    Padmini is one of my very favorite people! Like Naomi, I was one of the authors invited to the inaugural Murder on the Menu at the Cerritos Library and was also a guest last year. This is a wonderful event and I love to introduce it to folks and encourage everyone to attend.

    Reply
  9. Naomi

    Michael:

    You’re totally right! The public library attracts all kinds, and in Los Angeles, where we don’t have or use public transportation like other large cities, it’s the library where people of different classes and life experiences meet. And many times it ain’t pretty.

    We have an acquaintance who works as a librarian and to hear what the patrons (some of the crazies) say to her is pretty astonishing. I wouldn’t walk back to my car alone, that’s for sure.

    There’ve been a few mysteries with librarians, but not many. I’ll be interested to see what you do with your character and setting.

    Reply

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