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Besieged Libraries Poised to Branch Out With Seed From Bond Issue

Times Staff Writer

At its opening in 1952, the Sunland-Tujunga branch of the Los Angeles Public Library was the jewel in the community’s crown. But the area’s population has nearly doubled since then, and today the library is stretched to the breaking point.

Shelves are filled to capacity so books are stored on tables and carts. When librarians order new volumes, they must get rid of others. Children have been turned away from special summer reading events for lack of room. And, after school, students must jostle for space at one of the library’s five worktables.

“We must constantly make decisions about should we keep things or pull them, and sometimes we make wrong decisions,” librarian Mary Wynton said.

But an end to this problem is in sight. Using $21.2 million from the $53.4-million bond issue passed by voters last week, library officials plan to construct three libraries in the San Fernando Valley while expanding three of the Valley’s 17 branches.

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“It’s tremendous,” said Joyce Elliott, regional manager of the library’s East Valley district. “We really need more space. All the buildings were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they were built for a different population.”

Expanding Shelf Space

Nina Wilson, regional manager of the West Valley library district, said the money will be used to expand each library’s space for books and divert patrons from overused branches, such as Woodland Hills, Canoga Park and Granada Hills.

“We have lacked the book space we need to have here,” said Marlene Wulff, a librarian at the Van Nuys branch. “When we buy books, we have to get rid of things we would keep.”

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The quality of services has suffered too, Wulff said. “We have so many questions that are so technical and beyond our smaller collection’s scope--it has become very noticeable.”

Presentations that involve speakers such as children’s story hours, puppet shows, authors’ talks or community forums pose special problems in one-room branch libraries such as those in Sunland or Panorama City.

“When you have a nice program, you are inconveniencing people,” said Anne Landon, children’s librarian at the Panorama City branch.

Prior Measure Defeated

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Valley voters were blamed for the narrow defeat in November of Proposition L, which would have authorized $90 million in bonds for libraries, including the expansion and restoration of the city’s historic and fire-damaged Central Library. About 70% of the voters citywide approved the bond measure, but in the northwestern, western and central portions of the Valley, Proposition L captured barely 50% of the vote. It had needed approval by two-thirds of the voters to pass.

Elliott attributed the success of last week’s bond measure, Proposition 1, to its exclusion of the Central Library and to the volunteer efforts of librarians who walked precincts to drum up support.

Officials still are drawing up a construction schedule, but projects planned for the Valley include building an $8-million regional library in Sepulveda, a $2.7-million branch library in Woodland Hills and a $2.1-million branch in Granada Hills, a $3.2-million expansion of Panorama City’s branch and a $2.9-million expansion in Van Nuys. And the Sunland-Tujunga building will be replaced with a $2.3-million facility.

Regional libraries are bigger than branches, offering larger collections of material, including reference books and magazines, and generally longer hours.

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“It is going to mean service especially in areas where there has been no service before, and that will mean relief from heavily overused facilities,” Wilson said.

Wynton hopes that Sunland-Tujunga’s new building will include a community room so that the library can hold speakers programs without disturbing those who wish to read.

More Room for Patrons

Librarians at many Valley branches also said more space will allow them to expand their book collections and give more room to patrons using the facilities.

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“We’re quite thrilled,” Landon said. It was National Library Week last week “and so the timing for this is really great.”

The Valley is deemed too wealthy to qualify for federal funds, so without Proposition 1, the area might not have had any new libraries until the next century, officials said.

“We have been sitting here with the property for all three of these branches for 20 years and have been trying to get more funds to build them,” Wilson said. “This was terribly important for the Valley.”

But library patrons said the system still has other problems to solve.

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“This library is only open a few hours a day, and I can never get in here when I need to,” said John Alm, 30, studying at the Sunland-Tujunga branch last week. The branch is open 1 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 1 to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.


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