Participants in a California Humanities-supported reading and discussion group for veterans at a transitional housing facility in Los Angeles got the red carpet treatment when they paid a visit to the historic downtown Central Library on June 24. Los Angeles Public Library Director John Szabo and former Board of Library Commissioners President Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi (both Cal Humanities board members), joined by library staff members, including Acting Principal Librarian for Programming & Outreach Joyce Cooper, gave a warm welcome to the veterans before Docent President Diana Rosen led an hour-long tour of the library. In addition to stopping at points of special interest including the library’s renowned map room, where they spotted their home on a aerial photograph, and the historic rotunda, where they admired the Art Deco-era mural and statuary, the veterans obtained library cards, checked out books, met fellow veterans who staff the library’s Veterans Resource Center, and learned how to access services and materials through the library website.
The visit grew out of the veterans’ desire to go beyond the short selections from The Iliad and The Odyssey they’ve been reading in the monthly book discussions facilitated by Gail Soffer, an accomplished linguist and scholar who heads the Mindful Warrior Project, a veteran-serving nonprofit organization which is partnering with Cal Humanities to offer the program. A library excursion seemed like the perfect way to satisfy the veterans’ immediate reading needs as well as open up new opportunities for them to access the wealth of knowledge and information offered by the library.
After the visit, Gail made a comment about one of the veterans, “Mike is always super quiet and subdued and Bill is usually the same. But today Bill was chatting away with everyone, smiling, and laughing and it was a delight to see him enjoying himself so much. Once he was settled into a wheelchair, I checked in with him several times, and his response was consistently, “I’m having a blast!”
“I know these guys will be back and I’m sure others from the housing facility will join them, once they hear about the resources and how much their buddies found of value in a place that welcomes them.”
When Gail checked in a few weeks later to make sure that things were on track with the veterans renewing or returning their books, Bill proudly told her that he had finished reading both The Iliad and The Odyssey and had returned them on time. “Boy, were those ever great stories!” Bill exclaimed. “Thank you for introducing us to the real things, not the movie versions, and for making it so easy for us to read more than just the excerpts. I’m going back to get Goodbye to All That and also Slaughterhouse Five to read ahead of our next discussion.”
The book group at Ballington Plaza is one of four meeting over the summer in California as part of the Veterans Book Group Project, a national pilot program organized by the Maine Humanities Council and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that is developing literature-based reading and discussion groups for veterans. Cal Humanities is one of 13 state councils participating in the project, which aims to show how the humanities in general, and reading and discussion of literary works in particular, can play an important role in helping veterans successfully reintegrate into their communities. For more information, contact Felicia Kelley at email@example.com.
From left to right:
Martin proudly displays his new library card and book bag.
The veterans, book group leader Gail Soffer, Library Director John Szabo and staff, and Cal Humanities board member Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi and program officer Felicia Kelley signal their approval.
Bill, Mike, and Martin are joined by Veteran Resource Center staff and book group leader Gail Soffer.
LAPL Director John Szabo talks with the veterans and Gail.