After several years in the fiscal wilderness, the Los Angeles Public Library, and California libraries in general, are mounting a comeback. On Jan. 12, Sunday hours were restored at eight of the system's 72 regional branches and at the Central Library downtown.
Back in the dark days of 2010, when it seemed everyone was still trying to climb out of the hole of the Great Recession, I visited a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in East Hollywood. It was the same one where my immigrant father learned to read English in 1962. The library system had been forced to cut $22 million and 328 full-time positions from the library's budget and close all its branches on Sundays and Mondays. I interviewed people arriving to find a closed library.
"This is my refuge," one 18-year-old patron told me as she sat on the steps outside the locked Cahuenga Branch. "I've been coming here since I was 8...You get used to these things. It's hard to break from them."
But then in 2011, Los Angeles voters approved Measure L, giving a big boost to the library system. Monday hours were restored.
"Reopening on Sundays has been a top priority because it's one of the most popular days for families to visit the library," City Librarian John F. Szabo said in a statement. "Having libraries open on Sundays makes it more convenient to visit the library and get homework help, join computer classes, search for a job, use our health, citizenship and money management resources, and participate in our many other terrific programs."
Gov. Jerry Brown's budget for the coming fiscal year, released last week, contained more good news for California libraries: Brown proposed $3.3 million in funding to help public libraries connect to the state broadband network created by the nonprofit Corp. for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), which already provides such service to all K-12 public schools.
A recent report found that more than half the public libraries in California connected to the Internet at speeds 10 of Mbps or slower.