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East Comes West


By Mary Daily

Published Sep 21, 2011 12:00 PM


Founder David Kipen with visitor at Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights. Photo credit to Marianne Williams.

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The Hammer Museum's Public Engagement brings an interpretation of Libros Schmibros, a nonprofit lending library and used-book shop in Boyle Heights to Westwood.

Video courtesy of the Hammer Museum. For larger video, click here.

It's not often that east and west Los Angeles are beautifully bridged, but right now they are, thanks to an unusual installation at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. In late August, Libros Schmibros, a nonprofit used bookstore and lending library in the Boyle Heights region of East Los Angeles, assembled a "pop-up" location in the museum's lobby gallery. It will be there until October 9 through a public engagement residency with the Hammer.

Libros Schmibros was founded in July 2010, to protest the Monday closures of the L.A. Public Library system in response to lack of funding. Fortunately for the city's readers, the Monday closures didn't last long, but Libros Schmibros continued.

The original store was the brain child of book critic David Kipen, former director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, who donated about 7,000 of his own books, carefully collected over many years. A native Westsider, Kipen remembers many of the great bookstores that have been part of UCLA's neighborhood— including Hunter's, Campbell's, Butler-Gabriel and Westwood Books— so he's especially excited to set up shop there, even temporarily. "This is the neighborhood that made me a book critic," he says.

Since the Boyle Heights store began, its collection has grown to exceed 9,000, and about half of those were brought to the Hammer for the installation. Both stores are staffed by volunteers, many of whom are writers and professors. Kipen is co-director with Colleen Jaurretche '82 Ph.D.'94, a former member of the UCLA English Department faculty.

Libros Schmibros at the Hammer is funded by a grant to the museum from the Irvine Foundation. As part of the residency, the Hammer invited the store to include public programming and, at the request of Kiben and Jarretche, the invitation was extended to both locations. The calendars have included readings, signings and thought-provoking conversations.

One special feature of the Westwood store is that one wall showcases a "literary map" of Los Angeles that traces the city's history back to when it was named and features many prominent figures. Beautifully rendered in colored pencil, the map is the work of L.A. artist J. Michael Walker.

During the bookstore's residency, visitors to the Hammer will receive free admission to the museum with a donation of books in these categories: books about SoCal or by its writers; high-school or college mainstays; Spanish and Farsi literature; reviewers' copies; and first editions.

VIVA LIBROS AT THE HAMMER. Exhibition now extended until November 5. For more information on Libros Schmibros at the Hammer Museum, visit



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