The Artist's Voice: The New "Room of Requirement" at ESPL

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

El Segundo resident, Arts & Culture Advisory Committee member, and artist Natalie Strong introduces us to this intriguing new library space.


By Natalie Strong


Thanks to a collaboration between library leadership and the city's Arts & Culture Committee, an old copy-machine room at El Segundo Public Library is becoming something completely different.

“If you need to ask, you will never know. If you know, you need only ask.”

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, there is a magical room that you can’t just walk into any time you want. It is explained by the House Elf, Dobby, as “a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.” This room is known as the “Room of Requirement” or the “Come and Go Room,” and it plays a central role in the beloved book series. It is a room with which I am familiar as a lover of all things Harry Potter.

So when Melissa McCollum, El Segundo Public Library director, came to me with a project idea she called “The Room of Requirement,” I was all ears. She was “inspired by a story on [the public-radio program] ‘This American Life’ that compared libraries to the Room of Requirement in that they are spaces that transform into what you need them to be—often delivering very specialized services.” Just like the libraries discussed on this program, our El Segundo Public Library serves many purposes beyond the circulation of books. It is a place to meet, to study, and to read, and it is also a place to socialize, to make and see art, to hear music, to learn the history of El Segundo, and to entertain and enrich the lives of our children. Its purpose is ever evolving, and it is about to evolve a bit further.

In Rowling’s books, one must walk past the Room of Requirement three times with a specific need before the door reveals itself for your entry. There is a room in the El Segundo Public Library that we have all walked past at least three, if not dozens, of times. You may not have even noticed it until recently. It used to be a room full of copy machines. With changes in technology, the copy machines are no longer necessary and have been removed, leaving a curious, small, empty room just past the checkout desk. This is where McCollum proposed we get creative. “In our version of the Room of Requirement,” says McCollum, “we wanted to convert an unused copier room to an interactive and evolving space that helps spark creativity every time you visit.”

During the month of June, the room played home to a beautiful art installation by Tongva artist Mercedes Dorame (pictured). You may have noticed the red yarn, leather map, and cog stones on display. Perhaps you even walked in, took a closer look and read her artist statement. This piece was created as a temporary companion to the new library mural “Portals to Memory,” by artist Nanibah Chacon in the Friends of the Library room. Dorame and Chacon’s works were featured during the June El Segundo Art Walk, and while Chacon’s mural is a permanent work, Dorame’s has been dismantled, leaving the Room of Requirement ready for a new installation.

The second of what will be many installations will be going in during the month of July. The nature of the installation remains a surprise, however, because we want you to come discover it for yourself. Keep an eye on that little door between the checkout desk and the DVDs. You never know what you might find that you didn’t know you needed.


An installation by artist Mercedes Dorame (shown here adding finishing touches) was The Room of Requirement's first occupant.

This story appears in the July 2019 issue of The El Segundo Scene.

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