Whenever I have been privileged to visit the Los Angeles Central Library, I have been struck by the words inscribed on its facade: "Books alone are liberal and free. They give to all who ask. They emancipate all who serve them faithfully."
So I was greatly alarmed to learn that in the face of a very serious city budget shortfall, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council have proposed cuts to our 72 city libraries that will reduce their very lifeblood -- those liberating books themselves. They propose to shrink next year's book-buying budget by $2 million -- at a time when people need and want a wider variety of books, not fewer of them.
As an adoptive Angeleno who has called this city home for four decades, I've grown to appreciate Los Angeles' great public library system, which serves the largest population in the nation. But its book funds have been cut so low that today our library system ranks near the bottom of the book-buying list among the nation's 25 largest public library systems. I find it astonishing that our library has only 1.6 books for each resident of Los Angeles -- a city that is one of the cultural hubs of this country. San Francisco's library system has 7.3 books per capita; New York's has 6.2.
In my second career as an author and library habitue, I have witnessed firsthand the crucial role our libraries play in providing free access for children and adults alike in the realms of learning and literacy. Public libraries are our great teachers and storytellers, and are a vital adjunct to our schools. In this day of standardized and homogenized education, a library offers individual and personalized learning opportunities second to none.
Perhaps most important, libraries offer a powerful antidote to the isolation of the Internet, providing connection, support and community. Rather than wading in a solitary fashion through the morass of potential misinformation available on the Net, the student who conducts his or her explorations at a library has safe, professional guidance in his or her search for good books and accurate information.
It is my sincere hope that our city leaders will revisit their proposal and restore -- rather than reduce -- funding for our library's books. I can assure you that such an outcome would truly be music to my ears and a blessing for the millions who use and rely on our libraries each day.