Rare Books - Mexicana

Since its founding in 1872, the Los Angeles Public Library has acquired and made available books, journals and other forms of information that concern Mexico, whose influence on the culture of Los Angeles and California has always been and continues to be profound.

The Mexicana Collection is spread throughout the library system, in the subject departments, the Rare Books Department, and the community branches. It is a rich resource for students, teachers, parents, entrepreneurs, and researchers of every level who are interested in the heritage that Mexico continues to give to the world.

Books in Spanish were a large part of the first collections when the library opened in 1872. By the 1890s, the librarians were buying or receiving as gifts important books on Mexican history.

During his tenure as City Librarian from 1905 to 1910, Charles Lummis made the Mexicana Collection a priority, greatly expanding material on the discovery of the Americas, the history of Mexico and of California, and on the cultures of native peoples.

As a result, the Rare Books Department has hundreds of important and rare books on these subjects which supplement the materials found throughout the Central Library and the branches.

In the Rare Books Department are found books on Mexico printed between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. They include facsimiles of the major Mixtec and Mayan books (codices) produced before the Spanish Conquest and just after, histories of the conquest, accounts of native life, treatises on the Indian languages, religious manuals used by the padres to convert the Indians, books on medicinal and other useful plants, architecture, costume, and histories of the nation and its individual states from the conquest until the 1910 revolution. A few of the individual highlights follow:

  • Francisco Maria Picolo. Informe del Estado de la Nueva Cristiandad de California... Mexico, 1702. The first written account of California.
  • Fr. Juan de Torquemada. Los veinte in un libros rituales i Monarchia Indiana... Madrid, 1723. A key work on the Indians of Mexico.
  • Miguèl Venegas. Noticia de la California... Madrid, 1757. One of the most important works on the history of California.
  • Francesco Clavijero. Storia della California.Venice, 1789. A primary source on the history of Baja.
  • Gertrude Duby Blom. Chiapas Maya. San Cristobal de las Casas, 1982. Photographic documentation of the Lacandon Maya.

Important collections include the George B. Smith Collection of materials on Bullfighting which has over 1,400 volumes devoted to the Fiesta Brava and the Paul Fritzsche Culinary Collection which contains the most important Mexican cookery books of the nineteenth century, as well as an important early manuscript.

Materials in Central Library Subject Departments

Art, Music, & Recreation
The art, architecture, photography and music of Mexico are emphasized. Pre-Columbian, colonial and modern art, including the mural movement of the 1920s and the Chicano art that began to assert itself in the 1970s reveal the continuing flow of cultural influences in both directions across the border.

Business & Economics
Materials on the economic history of Mexico and international trade with Mexico are included here. There are trade journals such as Expansión, trade , economic statistics, financial data on Mexican businesses, and directories of Mexican industries and services. An extensive collection of materials related to NAFTA has been established.

Children's Literature
The Department actively acquires books and magazines on Mexico and the Hispanic cultures in the United States. About twenty-five percent of the department's budget is spent on books in Spanish for the over 125,000 Spanish speaking elementary school children in Los Angeles. After years of prodding by librarians, major U.S. publishers are releasing more and more children's titles in both English and Spanish. The library's Familias en la Biblioteca program actively reaches out to Spanish speaking families in the downtown area to familiarize them with what the library has to offer.

History & Genealogy

The History and Genealogy Department collects extensively in the history and archaeology of Mexico, biography and genealogy of Mexicans and of Mexican-Americans, travel to Mexico, and the geography of Mexico, including topographic maps. Most of the materials are in English, but many are in Spanish when they are necessary to cover the subject field and are too specialized for the International Languages Department. Microfilm files of many Spanish language newspapers published in Los Angeles, such as Estrella, The Express, and a complete file of La Opionion are found here. The library also owns an extensive file of the Mexico City newspaper, Excelsior.

International Languages
The Spanish language collection is the largest of the many language collections in the International Languages Department. It is broad in scope, covering all subjects that are important in daily life, as well as the major literary works of the Hispanic world. 

Literature & Fiction
The Department contains plays, poetry, novels, short stories and literary criticism of the important authors of the Hispanic world in English and in bilingual format.

Science, Technology, & Patents
The department has significant holdings on Mexican natural history, agriculture, botany, geology, mining and an extensive collection of Mexican food and beverage materials.

Social Science, Philosophy, & Religion
Politics and government of both the United States and Mexico are found here. Special emphases include ethnic studies materials on Latinos, directories of elected officials, immigration and border studies, Mexico's relations with the United States and with other countries.

In all, there are thousands and thousands of titles, in English and in Spanish, on Mexico and Mexican American subjects in the Central Library. These materials are available at the Central Library, and many of them can be borrowed through the sixty three local branches, most of whom also maintain materials in this field.