Rose and Alex Pilibos Ark Library: a case for books and libraries

By Ani Boyadjian Boghigian

There’s a point in time in any young reader’s life–when she or he remembers being turned on to books. Whether the loving image of a parent holding up a book and reading–the book becoming the extension of something so dear–in turn becoming endearing itself–or a teacher in high school assigning that one great book that opens the floodgates to new sensations–the result is one and the same: the beginning of a lifelong love affair with reading.

Words–in the right sequence–can be truly powerful. And images–conjured up through the dog-eared pages of a favorite tome–leave indelible footprints in our imagination–become an endless source of fascination–to be discovered and rediscovered–as we grow older.

For me–it was when my parents bought a World Book encyclopedia set from a door-to-door salesman in the very early 70s. I was so impressed that they would devote such a huge sum to a set of books–that I set off reading them all–one by one–letter by letter. Later–in my high school English class–our uncommon and irrepressibly joyful and sarcastic English teacher–Mr. Neil Dodd (who has vowed to "keep teaching at Mesrobian until the school burns down")–opened up the worlds of Dickens and Austen–Joyce and Heaney–by assigning books that still hold a special and sacred place.

How about our kids–the readers and thinkers–we hope–of tomorrow? A nearly exclusive visual age leaves little room for the simple pleasures of a good book. Or does it?

How many times have you heard the refrain "My kid does nothing but stare at the computer and chat online," or "I don’t think my daughter reads enough–how can I get her interested?"

These are all valid and timely commen’s and questions. It’s no secret that people are reading less–unless they are staring at a computer terminal. Unless kids are turned on to reading soon–and as often as possible–they will lose in a big way. Readers make better thinkers. Readers make better writers. So many students have trouble formulating a sentence–penning their thoughts. One of the obvious root problems is that they do not read enough.

It IS possible to get students excited about reading. It IS possible to get students excited about a library. A new school library seeks to offer an alternative–a respite for the hand-eye coordination-weary–through the sanctuary of the book. When it comes to a school–it all starts from the library.

Let me tell you how and why.

After much planning–much work–and many promises–the Rose and Alex Pilibos Ark Library finally opened its doors. For the over 800 students of the school who have not seen a working library on campus for the past five or so years–this is–to say the least–an exciting time. After nearly two years of construction–and then over a year and a half getting the innards of the library in order–a fully automated library is ready and is already welcoming students to its fold.

The project began with the idea to simply refurbish the existing two-classroom library. Over time–and through the persistent efforts of the administration–this was shelved in favor of an entirely new structure–built alongside a gymnasium that offers some breathing room for students on an already tight campus.

The structure became an ark–soaring above the school–seemingly floating and resting on "Ararat," the gymnasium. Architects Robert Mangurian and Mary-Ann Ray of Studioworks designed the boat-shaped library from a standpoint of merging two philosophical ideas: "gymnastike" (meaning exercise of the body–for the gym structure–or "Ararat") plus "musike" (education of the mind–denoting the library)–thus creating a harmony of form and function. [For more information on the award-winning structure–see the links listed at the end of the article].

When the architects were done with their magic–the real roll-up-your-sleeves work began. With a loyal work force of student volunteers–many of whom devoted a huge part of their summer to help out in the library by hauling books in and out–matching books to catalog cards and annotating them with notes and other necessary tasks–the library began to take shape and form.

Though the outline the entire process may not be particularly interesting–it may nevertheless serve as a blueprint or guideline for any Armenian school which–through a mixture of a luck in funding and/or "pari nakhants," would like to update or automate their library and its collection.

The first questions to ask when undertaking such a project include the following: Is the current facility adequate? If not–what other space can be used? What are the needs of students/teachers? Is the current collection timely–or is it mostly outdated and in need of replacement? Is there a need to automate–or is the card catalog enough? What goes into library automation? What are the obvious and hidden costs associated with such a project?

The prerequisites to this project are a modest budget–a good consultant–and a large and loyal workforce. No library can be established without some kind of a budget. A budget will cover library software costs (which may run from $3K to $10K)–computer terminals/workstations (which can be purchased or leased through a vendor)–new materials costs (new books–audiovisual materials–etc.)–and other essentials (various library furniture–promotional materials–etc.). Hidden costs may include computer networking and licensing fees–many of which need to be renewed yearly–and other costs that may creep up over the life of the project–which can run longer than expected.

A great library–however–is a both a great long and short-term investment for the school. It can also work to accomplish things that may not be obviously and readily measured. It can revitalize school programs and school pride–to get students involved in the day-to-day operations of running a library long after the start-up work is over–ensuring their presence and active participation.

In the summer of 2002–after the new structure was finished–a student workforce–under the supervision of the Education Committee of the Rose and Alex Pilibos School–began by hauling the books into the library from a storage area where they had been kept from the time the previous library space was emptied. A card catalog for both the Armenian and English collections was kept; although it was not maintained or updated–it was nonetheless invaluable in getting the collection automated. Most of the books had call numbers and spine labels–making them easy enough to sort by subject. At the start of the project–the existing English-language collection consisted of about 2,500 titles–while the Armenian collection numbered around 1,000.

Students began the painstaking task of matching the catalog card to the book in hand. This was done with the understanding that the cards would be collected and then shipped to our vendor–Follett (a leader in school and public library services and software)–which would then "create" a database for us that we could upload into our new online catalog.

One by one–book by dusty book–cards were matched and collected. Any books that were not fit to be up on the shelf–outdated items–torn and badly damaged books–were weeded–or removed–from the collection with care and consideration. Once all of the cards were collected–they were sent to the vendor. The vendor took each catalog card–and created a new database for the Library. They printed labels and barcodes–and mailed disks that contained a bibliographic record–what you see as the author–title–publisher and subject information for a book–for each item that we downloaded into the server. Then–an army of students went through all of the label and barcode sheets–and matched them with our books–book by book.

At the same time–new books were ordered for the Library–a much-needed shot in the arm and an attempt to fill in some gaping holes in the collection. The school administration set aside a start-up budget for books. No new books had been purchased for the library for some five years.

Follett software offers a service called Titlewave–which offers new–award-winning titles for purchase in every subject. Subject by subject–award-winning books that supplemented the existing collection and were deemed appropriate and supplemental for the curriculum taught at the school were selected–purchased–and sent–shelf-ready–with disks ready for uploading–from the vendor.

Over several months–in the fortunate company of zealous students with insatiable appetites for Sassoun Bakery’s banirov beoreg and Arax Bakery’s manaeesh (present company included)–the facility began to take shape and finally–began resembling a library.

Alongside the physical labor and new book purchases–the school’s Education Committee also planned the purchase and layout of computer terminals–and a list of necessary library furniture and signage that would be designed by either the architects–or purchased from a vendor.

The Education Committee contacted Dell with the express interest of purchasing computer terminals for the Library–which ended up as a lease agreement. In addition–we secured the lease for the more than 25 terminals for the new computer lab at the school. The advantages of leasing from a major vendor are the availability of round-the-clock hardware support–as well as replacement of the terminals if they malfunction–or an upgrade if a newer model is released. The architects wired the Ark so that it is computer-ready–making it a rather simple process to network the terminals and the server in spaces that were pre-designated for the workstations.

The overall layout of the library was also an important consideration: One side of the Ark would hold English-language materials–the other–Armenian-language ones–in a mirror image of each other. It was very important to place Armenian books in a prominent area of the Library–and not relegate it–and its contents–to a corner. The Armenian- language collection would also be cataloged–book by book–using Library of Congress rules for transliteration and romanization–basically creating records for each Armenian book by using English letters to represent Armenian sounds–and adding subject headings for each book.

I can safely say that this is the first Armenian day-school library to have its Armenian collection romanized and made part of the online catalog–or OPAC. This is significant and important for many reasons.

First–it means Armenian books are treated the same way–worthy of the same respect–as any English-language book.

Second–teachers and students can use the catalog to search Armenian books that are as accessible as English-language books.

Third–it makes the Armenian language collection–and the English language collection–open for anyone to browse–anywhere in the world with Internet access. In the future–all Armenian records will also include a link to a digital image of the title page of the book.

Many–many times–Armenians with wonderful book collections ask–"What should I do with my Armenian books? I’d like to donate them–but am not sure what to do?" Armenians are very proud of their personal libraries–and with good reason. Many in our community and in communities across the nation have rich personal libraries that include out-of-print Armenian books that are unavailable anywhere.

My answer will always be–Give your books where they are needed the most: either to a library or to an Armenian institution–on the condition that they will make them accessible by making them part of an online catalog. A library will add those books to their online catalog–making them either part of a national database–which is the case with most public and academic libraries–or make them part of their online catalog accessible through the Web–which is the case with school and/or special libraries. The book is thereby never sent to oblivion. Instead–it becomes part of a rich heritage–another "member" of cyber library space. In this way–all books at the Rose and Alex Pilibos Ark Library are made available to literally the world–through access to our online catalog. In my estimation–this is most certainly an important statement. The cataloged Armenian book–which may not be available at any other library in the country–exists–and anyone who is interested may discover that it exists. Certainly this is the first step towards it use. Certainly it is superior to having it languishing in dust in a personal library or garage.

The Education Committee was happy to receive many donations from teachers and the community-at-large.

Local writer and literary critic Puzant Granian donated the Armenian collection. New Armenian titles were purchased at Sardarabad–a local source for books. While in Armenia this summer–I picked up other titles–including an Armenian translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Which brings me to my next point: there is an obvious lack of interesting and timely Armenian literature for young adults. A look at the picture-book section of English-language books–and the corresponding section for Armenian- language books for children drives the point home. Many of the Armenian- language books are thin–paper-bound–and of poor quality.

Thankfully–a great crop of Armenian-language books for children have been published–in Armenia–and abroad–that attest to the fact that things are changing. Now the voice of our generation–in Armenian–is needed. Stories for youth that speak to them in the here and now–in their native language–telling stories that are meaningful to their age–world-view and experience. These are the kinds of issues that are brought to the fore when working on a library collection. It’s not simply purchasing this and that–but fueling the idea to also create this and that–in this case–and why not–original stories in Armenian for young adults.

But I digress. Alongside these considerations–the Committee worked hard to project future needs and services–and hired a new librarian Sarig Armenian–to spearhead these projects. The librarian and teachers are already working closely–through library orientation sessions and various events–to help students discover that the Library is a place to read–do research–think and discover.

Alongside the Library–the library website was also developed. The website provides an active link to the OPAC–or online catalog–as well as access to Proquest library databases (geared toward K-12 research needs)–links to useful websites for research and recreation–and other valuable information.

The collection now includes nearly 5,000 books in English and Armenian–covering virtually all subjects. The Library also owns periodicals ("Pakine," "Hairenik," etc.) and some Armenian monographs dating to the early part of the 20th century. Future plans also include adding an audiovisual collection and viewing section. At present–the library is open to students and staff only. However–in time–the Library has plans to open to the public and become a true community library.

It is my dream that all Armenian schools automate their libraries–one by one–step by step–and create a consortium of libraries for resource sharing–with each school library complementing–completing and enriching the other. For those libraries that are already there–consider the consortium idea as one to ponder. For those libraries on their way to automation–consider it another reason to get started.

The Rose and Alex Pilibos Ark Library is at a fresh–new–and exciting stage in its ongoing development. The architectural space is organic; it has been interesting to see it bloom through the books and all of the positive energy flowing through–on the road to becoming that harmony of form and function that the architects envisioned. During the Grand Opening celebration–I asked Stefan Scheide–one of the architects who has worked so closely on this project–how he felt seeing the space at this juncture. He said that it is the most amazing time–because no matter how well an architectural space is planned–you cannot really foresee just how it will be utilized or how it will come alive.

Over time–students and teachers will discover all that the library has to offer–and all that they can bring to the equation.

A library with a great collection is of no use unless it is used–and used well. The challenge now will be to create avenues and bridges where students will discover books–both in English and Armenian–and forge a new and dynamic relationship with books and reading.

It’s not an impossible dream–and the ultimate winners would be our kids.

Read about the Ark: w

The Ark was featured in: Lotus International–2003–no. 117–pp. 86-93.

Visit the Pilibos Library: and become a Friend of the Pilibos Library.


Ani Boyadjian Boghigian is Russian and Armenian Acquisitions and Catalog Librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library system–and is a member of the Rose and Alex Pilibos School’s Education Committee. This is her second library automation project. Her first project was the AUA Papazian Library in Yerevan–Armenia.


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