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New Chapter for Libraries’ Budget

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first time in years, all of the county’s 26 libraries would remain open at least five days a week, under a new operating plan being unveiled today.

The branches would also have more than $1 million added to their budgets for buying books, magazines and Internet computers.

For the first time since the 1970s, six of the libraries would be open seven days a week, while seven others would operate six days. Currently, some libraries are open only two or three days a week.

The new operating plan reflects the first major budgetary boost for a library system that has seen its spending slashed by more than 30% since 1993--first by reductions in state funding, and then by cutbacks dictated by the county’s bankruptcy.

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“This makes our libraries more accessible to the public and restores some of the services we’ve cut in the past,” County Librarian John M. Adams said.

“The county has invested millions of dollars in these facilities,” Adams added, “and it’s good public policy to make them available to the people who paid for them.”

The new operating plan comes three weeks after the Board of Supervisors increased by $2.3 million the struggling system’s annual budget, which is also benefiting from modest increases in other revenues, such as those generated by library fines and fees.

Library patrons who have long complained about reduced operating hours and shrinking services were heartened by the proposed changes.

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“It’ll be great to have the library open more often than it is closed,” said Leticia Perez, a regular at the Chapman branch in Garden Grove, which would expand operations from two to five days per week.

“The way it is now, I don’t get use the library as much as I want, because the hours are so crazy. This would be a big improvement,” said Perez, noting that the county threatened to close the Chapman branch altogether in the months following its 1994 bankruptcy.

The Los Alamitos library would go to five days of operations from the current four, and volunteers said Wednesday that they might try to pay for a sixth day with money raised from private donors.

“I think being open six days will be very good for us,” said Charles Scott, president of Friends of the Los Alamitos Library. “Regardless of someone’s age, the library is the source people go to if they need help or information. If it’s not open when you need it, that’s a problem.”

In addition to the extra hours, Adams is proposing a $1.1-million increase for books, magazine subscriptions and other materials. The system has slashed its budgets for such purchases by more than 50% since 1993, forcing branches to cancel dozens of magazine subscriptions and to buy so few copies of new books that patrons have often been obliged to wait months to check out bestsellers by Stephen King and John Grisham.

The system also plans to spend $800,000 to install computers with Internet access at branches.

The proposed plan will go before the county’s library advisory board today. The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the matter sometime in July.

Ten libraries would add anywhere from one to three days of operations under the plan, including branches in Garden Grove, Seal Beach, Silverado Canyon, La Palma, Los Alamitos, San Juan Capistrano, Villa Park and Stanton. San Clemente’s library could begin seven-day-a-week operations, or local officials could decide to increase other types of services instead.

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Earlier this year, five branches in Irvine, Costa Mesa and Laguna Niguel began seven-day operations.

While other libraries won’t get more days of operations under the plan, they could receive additional books, materials, computers or staffing, Adams said.

Library officials will meet with community representatives to determine exactly how each branch spends its additional resources.

The plan is a far cry from the austerity measures the library system has taken over the last five years.

The budget problems stem from the state’s decision in 1992 to balance its budget by reducing the amount of property taxes allocated to the state’s library systems and other special districts.

The situation worsened after the bankruptcy, when the county cut its modest subsidy to the system.

Adams attributed the improving outlook for library operations to the board’s $2.3-million allocation, as well as to stronger revenue from book fines and other fees.

“This budget is the first in five years not to anticipate reduction, but see major improvements,” Adams said.

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Library patrons hoped this marks the beginning of better times.

“I hope this means the library will begin getting more from the government,” Perez said. “I feel the libraries have been ignored for a long time.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Branching Out

A new budget plan for the Orange County Public Library system would dramatically increase operating hours at the 26 branch libraries, some of which are now open just two or three days per week. Under the proposal, each branch would be open a minimum of five days each week.

Planned Service

5 days: 13 branches

6 days: 7 branches

7 days: 6 branches

Here are the branches that would get increased operating hours:

*--*

Days now Proposed open days open Chapman 2 5 Garden Grove (West) 3 5 La Palma 3 5 Los Alamitos 4 5 San Clemente 6 7 San Juan Capistrano 5 6 Seal Beach 4 5 Silverado Canyon 2 5 Stanton 2 5 Villa Park 2 5

*--*

These branches will not have increased hours, but some could gain extra materials, computers or other service improvements under the plan:

*--*

Days now open Brea 5 Cypress 5 Dana Niguel 6 Fountain Valley 5 Garden Grove Regional 6 Laguna Beach 5 La Habra 5 Lake Forest 6 Rancho Santa Margarita 6 Tustin 6 Westminster 6

*--*

These branches expanded to daily operations several months ago. They could gain extra materials, computers and other services improvements:

Costa Mesa

Mesa Verde

Laguna Niguel

Irvine Hertiage Park

Irvine University Park

Source: Orange County Public Library System


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