Cultural Crossroads: 
Historias at San Diego Public Library

In 2004, the California State Library (CSL) launched a pilot LSTA grant program called California Cultural Crossroads. Under the program, each library received $25,000 to join with a local ethnic cultural arts organization to create ongoing cultural programming in the library. Crossroads’ goal was to entice underserved ethnic community members into libraries to experience what libraries offer. Further, the larger library community would benefit from sharing library programs with people from another ethnic culture.

California Cultural Crossroads has proven a great success: San Diego Public Library’s inspired work with downtown San Diego’s Latino cultural community illustrates that.

San Diego Public Library (SDPL) leaders knew that though the downtown San Diego Latino immigrant population was 46.65 % and the city’s was 26.7%, Latino immigrants made up only 2% of library event audiences. Frustrated by this inequity, SDPL leaders applied for a California Cultural Crossroads grant, and got it. SDPL joined with San Diego’s dynamic Latino arts group, the Media Arts Center, to invigorate SDPL’s customer base.

Using the LSTA funds, team members from SDPL and the Media Arts Center created Historias, a program that has opened up the world of the SDPL to San Diego’s Latino immigrant community. The numbers prove it. Since Historias, Lynn Whitehouse, program coordinator at SDPL, reports Latino immigrant attendance averages about 10 to15% for non-Latino SDPL programs and ranges from 70 to 80% for Latino programs.

Historias highlight: Library Night at film festival

Historias partner, the Media Arts Center, organizes the San Diego Latino Film Festival, a perfect venue for a Cultural Crossroads event. With the Media Arts Center’s help, SDPL launched Library Night at the March 2004 festival. As the crowd swelled to 1000, SDPL library cardholders were treated to a $2.00 discount off the $8.50 ticket price. At a table featuring promotional materials SDPL staff encouraged festival-goers to apply for library cards, and become involved in library activities.

Whitehouse says Library Night gave SDPL “extraordinary community exposure.” The film festival, Whitehouse reports, not only prompted cultural discourse among nontraditional and underserved adults, it also drew them to the library.

More Historias accomplishments

Other SDPL Historias activities also drew Latino community members into the workings of their library.

Through the “Cultural and Intergenerational Scrap Booking Program” teen producers worked with SDPL Children’s Room staff to create digital scrapbooks from interviews of 10 Latino community role models or heroes. The project, compiling a multimedia presentation on the life of each interviewee, included digital stills and videos, interviews of elder community leaders, and journal writing.

By speaking and interviewing community leaders, Historias youth learned that civic change begins with individuals like the muralist for San Diego’s Chicano Park, a local vice-principal raised in the library’s urban neighborhood, and the director of the a downtown community center.

Historias’sBilingual Book Discussion Group” allowed participants to read Mexican and Mexican American literature that might resonate in their lives. In one book club selection, Limon’s The Day of the Moon, the Chicana protagonist travels back across the border to Mexico to find or discover her heritage, a way of life for many of SDPL’s newest customers.

For more information about California Cultural Crossroads, please contact CSL Library Programs Consultant Kathy Low at (916) 653-6822 or email at



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