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


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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

Chinatown branch library, March 23, 2010. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/ Los Angeles Times