Children’s librarian stimulates young brains

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Lora Cokolat is the new children's librarian for Malibu. Jonathan Friedman / TMT

Lora Cokolat teaches children how to use the library as a research tool and to enjoy it. She also gives young children their first experience with books.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

Lora Cokolat, the new children’s librarian at the Malibu Library, originally wanted to work at a university. With no jobs available in that field, she took a position as a children’s librarian for Los Angeles County. Cokolat said she surprisingly fell in love with the job. The 30-year-old German immigrant teaches children how to conduct library research and that the library can be a fun place. She also reads stories to toddlers and preschoolers, introducing them to books.

Being a storyteller is fitting for Cokolat, a woman whose life is an interesting story in itself. Cokolat was born in Turkey to a Hungarian-Austrian mother and a Turkish father. Following her father’s death when she was five, Cokolat and her mother moved to Germany. She graduated from high school at 16, and that same year wrote a teen romance novel that got published.

Cokolat soon moved to Monterey, Calif. Since she spoke little English, she had to take classes to learn the language. After mastering English, Cokolat went to a community college to study fashion design. She then went to UC Santa Barbara, where she graduated with a degree in film studies. After graduation, Cokolat took a job at UCLA for the Institute of the Environment. There, she edited the Environmental Report Card, which analyzes the state of the environment in Southern California. In 2001, Cokolat obtained a master’s degree from UCLA in Library and Information Science. She then returned to Germany to study Nazi library systems.

“There haven’t been many studies on that,” she said. “A lot of studies have been done on concentration camps and politics of that period, but not on other institutions such as libraries.”

Cokolat said it was interesting to note that the Nazis did not actually destroy most of the books they claimed they did. Copies of those books, which included literature and science, and medical writings authored by Jews and other people despised by the Nazis, were burned in large public displays. But Cokolat said the Nazis would keep other copies of those books locked away in the libraries.

“They needed them for reference and research,” she said. “It was just for propaganda purposes that they said they destroyed all the copies.”

Cokolat said the Nazis were good with record keeping, and their libraries were well organized. She said she hopes to publish her research in one of the library science academic journals.

Cokolat returned to the United States after spending six months in Germany. Unable to find a job with a university, she took a job at the La Crescenta Library as a children’s librarian in the winter of 2001. Cokolat transferred to the Malibu Library earlier this year. One of her jobs is to teach children how to use the library by speaking at the local elementary schools and by having the students come to the Malibu Library.

“We encourage the children to use the library as a research tool and for enjoyment,” she said. “We also show them that there is fun literature to read. It doesn’t always have to be academic.”

Cokolat said the children are given tasks to research information both through the Internet and through non-Web sources. She said it is important for children to learn how to do research without the Internet, so they are able to learn that something found on a Web site is not necessarily good information.

Another thing Cokolat does is Story Time sessions, where she reads to toddlers and preschoolers. Although the children do not know how to read, Cokolat said by watching her do it, it is a brain-stimulating experience.

“They don’t know anything about books,” Cokolat said. “They don’t know that you have a cover and you have to turn the pages. You have to show them that. And after a while, they start realizing how you leaf through a book. They can see that I’m reading the words even though they can’t read them.”

Cokolat said she points at the pictures and has the children identify them to make it an interactive process. The children also do various movements, such as stretching and dancing. In addition, they listen to rhymes and verses, which Cokolat said creates patterns and repetition that children enjoy. This helps with the learning process.

Story Time sessions take place on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. for toddlers up to age 3 and 11:15 a.m. for preschoolers. The Malibu Library is located at 23519 West Civic Center Way. More information can be obtained by calling 456.6438.