Home News & Events Featured Grantee of the Month: Anaheim Public Library

Featured Grantee of the Month: Anaheim Public Library

Above and beyond isn’t enough to describe these grantees. Each month, we’ll be featuring a new interview with an organization from our NEA Big Read community. This month, the Anaheim Public Library talks equitable access, collaborative creativity, and the lasting relationships that are formed when a community reads together.

Tell us a little bit about your organization!

The Anaheim Public Library is one of the oldest and most established libraries in Orange County, California. In its 116-year history, the library has grown dramatically from its humble beginnings in a candy store. Currently, Anaheim Public Library boasts a variety of services, including a Bookmobile and local history learning at the Heritage Center and Founders’ Park. Most recently, we have developed a joint-use library with the Anaheim Elementary School District and a book vending machine at the Anaheim Regional Transportation Center (ARTIC).

“…Our communities seek close relationships with the stories and characters shared between readers and authors, and the library is the perfect place for them to coalesce.”
—Adam Shelley, Anaheim community member

Who is your community and how do you connect with them?

Anaheim-native author Gustavo Arellano writes, “a group of Germans from San Francisco purchased one hundred acres to create a socialist grape-growing commune named Anaheim in the county’s first bilingual conflation (heim being German for “home”, and Ana referring to the Santa Ana River).” Since 1859, Anaheim has transitioned from its German agricultural roots to become a center of tourism and diverse communities. Our library user groups are comprised of children, families and seniors seeking education, knowledge and equitable access to opportunity, success and happiness.

We connect with our community by implementing outreach services that focus on education and literacy. Our library system has eight branches, serving over 360,000 residents located in Anaheim’s six districts. In addition, the Bookmobile makes 18 stops per week at various schools and neighborhoods, reaching more distant communities. The Heritage Center is a local history asset, educating our community about Anaheim’s early history and historical reference services. Our goal is to enrich and foster the lives of our community by offering diverse programs. Currently, our programming ranges from early literacy to STEAM programs and several annual special events including: NEA Big Read, Zine Fest, AnaCon, Indie Author Day, etc.


Children painting at a community mural event. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.

What made your Big Read unique?

We partnered with many other organizations in our city including literacy partners, schools, cultural organizations, local artists, and small businesses. In all, 108 volunteers helped us with our programming. We provided free citizenship classes through a local nonprofit, OCCORD, neighborhood resource packets for local Neighborhood Services, and copies of Into the Beautiful North for the local ESL program, NOCE. We provided Spanish copies of Into the Beautiful North for Anaheim Union High School District students’ families. And we hosted an art exhibition in the Central Library – Memories of Migration: Telling our Stories and Connecting Our Journeys. This art exhibit chronicled the migration stories of Orange County residents and was put together by a partnership with REFORMA, Santa Ana Public Library, and the CSU Fullerton Pollak Library.


Memories of Migration: Telling our Stories and Connecting our Journeys exhibit at the Central Library. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.


Chef Jimmy Martinez, owner the food truck, Pour Vida, an APL NEA Big Read partner. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.

Why did you select this particular book and how have you seen your community engage with your selection?
Luís Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North is a quest novel in the grand tradition, though there are no medieval knights, magic rings, or light sabers within its pages. Its energetic, idealistic protagonist, Nayeli, is a girl of nineteen coming of age in a Mexican village more than 1,000 miles from the border. Through a quest that takes Nayeli and her friends from the village of Tres Camarones to the upscale neighborhoods of San Diego, Urrea explores, with compassion and humor, the microcultures within the border world: revealing that the distance between them is not as great as one might initially imagine.

Many residents of Anaheim are immigrants and can relate to themes within Into the Beautiful North. This book covers tough issues with sensitivity and laughter and never whitewashes the complexities of competing principles in society. By hosting the NEA Big Read during Hispanic Heritage Month, we also wanted to honor the Hispanic members of our community, and to celebrate the diverse and multifaceted experiences represented among Anaheim residents. We saw our community engage with the book in several ways; teens read the book through three city teen centers and their high school libraries (copies of the book were provided at no cost to both organizations). We had adult book discussions at branch libraries and a senior living facility. Children experienced and engaged with arts and performances at our kickoff event, the screening of The Magnificent Seven, and the 30+ craft programs that we offered during the NEA Big Read. Over 4,500 residents attended event programs or book discussions during our month of programming.


Young mariachi players during a performance at the NEA Big Read kickoff. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.


Children at the APL NEA Big Read Papel Picado craft event. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.

What aspect (event, discussion questions, audience outreach, etc.) of your programming do you feel has been the most impactful?

Over the course of the NEA Big Read, we provided opportunities for residents to learn about—and participate in—Mexican-American culture in Anaheim. How to dance folklorico, help paint a mural, learn embroidery, make tortillas, write a story about their hero, share a story, and make crafts like: papel picado, piñata, munecas de papel, and sugar skulls for Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Having opportunities to create with others is empowering and community building at the same time, and can help create lasting connections across lines of difference. Each of these events was well attended by families. For our community, events that crossed generations seemed to be particularly effective at reaching a broad audience.


The APL NEA Big Read Project S.A.Y. Ballet Folklorico performance. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.

More generally, what do you think makes a program impactful or successful? Why?

What makes programs most impactful is intimate collaboration on projects between patrons and library staff. Anaheim Public Library’s programs focus on providing our communities with the resources, tools, and support to enhance their experience during programs. Art programs in particular give people a platform to express their voice and, in the process, learn more about themselves and their community. In addition, a program that allows a person to participate in a public activity solidifies their identity and builds continuity between other members of the community. An effective program is reaffirming and uplifting, and meets the needs of an individual seeking positive social experiences; so we try to maximize those opportunities.

View the full guide

Could you talk about some of the events that you felt were more creative or participatory? What was the background or process behind those events?

The “Xicana Fashion Show” was created by local, young clothing designers working in Orange County. The show highlights women’s casual streetwear in combination with Xicana culture. The clothing designers, all Xicanas in their 20s—Lizz Zuñiga (Audey Thunders Clothing), Wendy Ulloa (el garage fashion), Monique Desiree Ruiz and Wendy Ortiz (The Cozmik Fairy)—demonstrated the DIY community’s ethos of creativity and experimentation. The motifs and style influences ranged from traditional folk art to “riot grrl” music.

One of our Library Assistants , Brianna Meli, has been involved in the local arts scene for years and has a few friends that are clothing designers. When she pitched the program, she noted that the designers were flexible and could work with some high school student volunteers. Euclid Library teen volunteers set up the runway, seats, and tables with mannequins and clothing. A few high schoolers also served as models for the clothing designers, while others were fashion photographers in an area blocked off for photography. Byron Adams, another Library Assistant, became the emcee for the day and cued the music for the runway. Each clothing designer had a set list of music ranging from punk to banda. After the fashion showcase, volunteers were able to ask the fashion designers questions during a full Q&A panel. The high schoolers were very interested in the apparel, the creative process and the “just do it” ethos, which encouraged spirited discussion of topics like: entrepreneurship, commercializing art to build a career, the creative process, professional barriers, and what it means to DIY.


High school volunteers after walking in the Xicana Fashion Show. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.


Clothing on display at the Xicana Fashion Show. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.

Could you share any favorite anecdotes or stories from your community, about the book and the program?

In partnership with REFORMA, Santa Ana Public Library and Pollak Library (CSUF), we borrowed the exhibition, Memories of Migration: Telling our Stories & Connecting our Journeys for our NEA Big Read. This project was dedicated to chronicling the migration stories of Orange County area residents and local artists. One artist, Armando Cepeda, offered to add an additional piece to the exhibition which was a large neon display of a Día de los Muertos skull installed on a 1930’s rusted pickup truck hood. He shared that in addition to being an artist, he is also an educational consultant that leads a social emotion learning workshop for struggling students. At the opening reception with Luís Alberto Urrea, several high school students voiced that they wanted to learn more about the exhibition for a school assignment. Luckily, Cepeda was at the reception, stepped up, gave an impromptu personal tour of the exhibit, and answered student questions. We love when serendipity allows opportunities for community building and support!


Luís Alberto Urrea at the Anaheim Public Library keynote event. Photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library.

Lastly: what is your favorite line from your reading selection?

Nayeli’s transformative vision of the Tijuana dump:

“If she squinted, it almost seemed rustic – a sweet little town painted in all the Mexican primary colors.”