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14 September 2018

The Genealogy Collection at Los Angeles Central Library: A Worthwhile Adventure!

By Annie Brenneis
The Los Angeles Library Central Branch
The popularity of the Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Jamboree has helped direct well-deserved attention to their impressive Family Research Library in Burbank. As a native of Southern California who often makes the trek down I-5 to visit family, many of my own research hours have been spent combing SCGS’s stacks. Los Angeles also boasts a sizeable FamilySearch outpost, of course, but there is one significant genealogy center in Southern California that seems to be undeservedly underutilized! 

West entrance frieze depicts passing the torch of knowledge
In my late teens and young adulthood, while still living in L.A. County, the Los Angeles Central Library was a frequent haunt for this bookworm. Its destruction by fire in 1986 left me quite bereft, but I am happy to report that over the years the L.A. Central Library phoenix has had an impressive rebirth! With seven floors of books and copious other resources available for the inquisitive public, the Richard J. Riordan Central Library (its official name) is “the largest public research library west of the Mississippi,” according to the Self-Guided Tour pamphlet PDF available on their website. 

If you visit LAPL’s Central Library main page and click on the Docent Tours link found near the top of the left side-bar, you will see a schedule of daily tours of the library’s gorgeous art collections, garden, and architecture, along with a link to the Self-Guided Tour pamphlet. If you look back at the Central Library main page, under Planning Your Visit, you will find a link to a PDF of their immensely useful Floor Map. 

Once you have basked a bit in the library’s inspirational surroundings, you can take either the elevator or escalator down to the History and Genealogy floor, Lower Level 4. At the top left of the Central Library main web page, click on Collections & Resources and then Research Guides, where you will find the link to a full-page rundown of the History and Genealogy Department’s holdings. 

The beautiful glass-ceilinged atrium
Highlights of L.A. Central’s Genealogy collection of about 45,000 titles include City Directories on microfilm and microfiche from all over the country (some L.A. directories available digitally); U.S. Telephone Directories on paper and microfiche; about 10,000 family histories; and books on Heraldry and Coats of Arms, including Hispanic and German, with a card index of family names. Their map collection is extensive, with all of the USGS topographical maps and a great number of gazetteers and atlases. A perusal of their U.S. and International Genealogy Reference shelves reveals a remarkable array of titles. Having their History collection on the same floor is convenient for background and contextual research. No wonder I keep going back! 

An extra perk at L.A. Central: their very easy-to-use free scanners. Not every floor has one, so you need to ask a librarian where they are, but they produce very clear images that can be stored on a thumb drive or, even better, emailed directly from the machine. 

The library has a nice gift shop that is worth a visit. There is a small, unimpressive food court in the lobby, but it is much nicer to pack a sandwich to eat in the library garden when you need a break. 

Rotunda with murals by Dean Cornwell
The only downside of the L.A. Central Library is its inner-city location. As expected, there are uniformed security personnel at each entrance, but they are as welcoming as they are watchful, and the entire library staff does an excellent job of cultivating a safe atmosphere. The real challenge for patrons is downtown traffic. They have a paid parking lot, and last time I used it the cost was $9 with validation that required my L.A. library card. However, I do not recommend driving in downtown L.A., especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. 

The Central Library main page has a Directions link that includes tips for using L.A. Metro public transit. I think the most fun way to the Central Library is to take a MetroLink train into Union Station and then hop onto the DASH bus B toward the Financial District for the short ride to Grand Avenue and 5th Street. The train ticket includes free use of connecting buses—just show it to the driver. The DASH bus B toward Chinatown takes you back to Union Station, where Historic Olvera Street is right nearby. It's wonderful for a stroll, a little shopping, and some tasty Mexican food. I recommend stopping for taquitos at the Olvera Street food stand where they were invented--Cielito Lindo!

Annie Brenneis is a genealogist, researcher, and writer who lives in northern California. Her website is

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