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The tenuous state of L.A.'s public libraries


On Monday, July 19, the Los Angeles Public Library system kept its doors locked because of city budget cuts. It was the first day of a reduction to an indefinite five-days-per-week schedule -- the libraries are also closed Sundays -- for the Central Library downtown, eight regional libraries and 64 branches.

This week, the LA Weekly'scover story is a long report on the tenuous state of the public library system. It's a must-read for anyone concerned about the viability of big-city libraries in an economic downturn, and in the literary life of Los Angeles.

Admittedly, the story is tainted by hyperbole. It also glosses over the severity of our city's budget crisis. Facing a $500 million deficit, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council were forced to make deep cuts in order to pass a $6.7-billion budget in June. And while the police were largely spared, the library was among the remaining departments that were seriously affected by the significant cuts. 

The library's operating budget is $82.7 million; the article gets a bit distracted by an $18.5-million gang intervention program that it finds wanting, although the program is a small portion of the overall budget and has no connection to the library. There are also complexities of exactly who gets to decide how cuts are implemented and issues of staffing and unions that don't get mentioned but might help draw a clearer picture of the choices available when faced with budget cuts. Was there anything that might have been done to keep the libraries from closing two days a week? Why was the closure considered the best solution?

While these questions linger, the article may prompt more people to think about the Los Angeles Public Library this September, which is National Library Card Signup Month. It's a great resource, even if it is  open only five days a week.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Clarissa Voong, 8, reads at the Chinatown branch library, March 23, 2010. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/ Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (10)

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The L.A. Weekly article is a hugely disturbing expose about the weakness of L.A.'s leadership in preserving one of the city's most important resources for all the citizens, but especially its children and students.

Forget about the Dodgers: We are way behind other cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, which all are suffering major deficits but fought to keep its main library open seven days a week and branch libraries open for six days a week. Are we not men/women? We are devolving, clearly and sadly. There goes the future. There goes education. There goes our community.

Where is our city pride? Where is the mayor? Why are our councilpeople so gutless?

Instead of closing the libraries two days a week, maybe it's time for the city to take a hard look at how much they are paying public officials. There are far too many city workers making more than $200,000, not including benefits. Given the unemployment rate, I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to recruit qualified workers to fill those positions for less.

Democracy requires an educated populace.

sorry but libraries aren't as useful as they used to be, thanks to the internet. they're still open five days a week, so what's the problem? there's budget crisis, and i'd rather they cut a luxury than police. i'm not losing sleep over this and i'm a regular patron.

It is shame that government considers education of young people, not all people, important.

A bitter irony here is that Los Angeles has spent a lot of money to build the physical plant of a great library system. But now there's not enough money to operate a system that ought to be open at least 6 days a week. The internet doesn't come close to replacing libraries, especially for kids and new readers who need guidance. This often happens to public services--the money can be found for one time capital costs, but not for the operating costs.

Claz, saying that the library is a luxury and irrelevant thanks to the internet is a gross overstatement. You're assuming that everyone has the internet, which is simply not true. You're also assuming everyone has the literacy skills needed to capably surf a primarily English web. That is simply not true.

If you want to read more about the Digital Divide in LA, these sites have some information:


Public libraries are one of the best ways to bridge the digital divide, because it is a public and inexpensive resource. They teach ESL courses, they show people how to sign up for email and use a computer. They even have those computers .. with internet! Not everyone has the money to afford a luxury like the internet.

What a lazy excuse for journalism. Kellogg basically critiques the LA Weekly's article because she's too lazy to go and research one on her own.

Kudos to the LA Weekly for taking the time and resources to publish an in-depth article on the library cuts. And thanks to the LA Weekly for above all - caring about libraries.

Instead of dissing the LA Weekly, the LA Times should focus on actual reporting. And they wonder why subscriptions are down.

as we turn to digital books as time goes on, physical libraries will eventually become smaller and smaller since we will only be "borrowing" or "renting" digital files -- a room full of books, records, and other such analog resources is doomed for the scrap heap -- why is LA not planning for the library of the future?

The internet is vastly overrated as a source of information. Sorry, but most information is still in the form of books. Not to mention the fact that much of the 'information' on the net is useless.
It's this kind of attitude that creates the Sarah Palins of this world.


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