L.A. city libraries face shorter hours and Sunday closures
Spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at L.A.’s public libraries may no longer be an option because of a citywide hiring freeze and the early retirements this year of more than 100 library employees. The Board of Library Commissioners will vote Thursday on a plan for Sunday closures at the city’s Central Library and eight regional libraries, which house larger collections than the 64 branch libraries scattered throughout the city.
Friday-morning hours were cut at regional and branch libraries in November to absorb the city employee furloughs that were part of this year’s budget deal. Though the city set aside money for 1,132 library positions this year, nearly 100 of those jobs are vacant and cannot be filled because of the hiring freeze. In addition, 107 library employees signed up for the city’s early retirement plan, which was offered to 2,400 Los Angeles employees last fall to help address the budget crisis
Library officials say Sundays are one of the days with the fewest patrons. If the plan is approved by commissioners, employees will be reassigned to ensure that other branches can stay open. The 64 branch libraries are already closed on Sundays.
Under the proposal, which would take effect in mid-April, all of the city’s libraries would also close two hours earlier -- 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. -- on Mondays and Wednesdays. The eight regional libraries --Arroyo Seco, Exposition Park, Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood, Mid-Valley, North Hollywood, San Pedro, West Valley and West Los Angeles -- would open at noon rather than 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Roy Stone, president of the Librarians’ Guild AFSCME Local 2626, said the early retirements and hiring freeze have created major scheduling headaches, especially when employees are out sick or on jury duty.
“We can barely get by,” Stone said. “This will allow the staffing to be more concentrated during those hours that we’re open, so when you don’t have enough staff you can get by. Everybody is just working as hard as they can to maintain service hours now.”
With the city facing a $485-million budget gap next fiscal year, the city's libraries could face far more drastic cuts. Twenty librarians, 20 library clerks and 60 messenger clerks are on the list of the first 1,000 job cuts authorized by city leaders this year. But because of an agreement with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, those employees would not be laid off until July 1.
City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who heads the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, said city officials are continuing to explore options to make sure libraries stay open during their busiest hours, which he said are from 3:30 p.m. to closing.
LaBonge said the city should also seek partnerships with private donors who could help keep the lights on at branch libraries, which cost $40,000 a week to operate.
“We are trying not to lose the young, dedicated team of professionals,” he said. “We want to keep these libraries open as many hours as we can.”
-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall
Photo: Sergio Castillo, shown in 2008, reads a magazine at the Los Angeles Public Library Pico-Union branch. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times