Thursday, May 1, 2008

Los Angeles Library Funding Crisis

I got a flurry of emails today about the crisis in funding for Los Angeles public libraries. Evidently cuts in the city's budget are going to means big cuts in the libraries' budgets, and now the city's librarians are fighting mad.

A friend who is a children's librarian at one of the nearby branches says she no longer has a budget for books. And the librarian at my nearest branch says that, except for a small stipend they were were given in February, they have not been able to purchase any materials since December of last year.

Los Angeles has a huge library system, housed in some architecturally amazing buildings. It would be a shame not to protect, nurture, and grow the system.

The city's librarians and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles have created Save the L.A. Public Library, an advocacy group for libraries. According to the Library Foundation and Save the L.A. Public Library's websites, here's the background:

Faced with a citywide budget shortfall, elected officials are proposing deep cuts to the Library department budget that will result in:

1. Reducing the book budget by $2 million This is a 22% cut from last year’s book budget, and a 33% cut from two years ago.

2. Closing the eight regional branch libraries on Sundays, due to a reduction of staff positions.

3. “Short-term layoffs” of Library staff, which may further reduce library service.

And they've also put together what I think is a convincing list of reasons to fight the cuts:
The proposed cuts to the Library budget come at a time when:

People want more books, not less. The Library was unable to fill more than 300,000 requests for books last year, because the book budget has been cut 33% over the last two years to $7.7 million for the Central Library and 71 branches. The Library serves the largest population in the U.S., yet for per capita book spending, the Library now ranks 23rd among the 25 public libraries serving populations of over 1 million. The Library has only 1.6 books for each resident of Los Angeles.

People want the library to be open more hours, not less. The Library experienced record use in three key areas: more than 16 million visited the Library; more than 15 million books were checked out; and the electronic resources were used more than 110 million times. In a 2005 survey, keeping libraries open longer hours was among the top three requests from library users. Libraries must be open on Sundays, not closed as proposed in the budget, to meet the record demand for library books, computers and programs.

The Library gives kids a real alternative to gangs. At a time when gang intervention is among the city’s top priorities, the Library provides anti-gang education programs, workshops that help kids explore educational and career opportunities, peer groups that build self-esteem, and more.

Supporting education means supporting the Library. The schools can’t do it alone, that’s why the Library provides children with books, computers, homework help and libraries that are open when schools are closed. The Library also provides the largest after-school program in the city designed to build literacy skills in children and keep them reading outside the classroom. With more than 70% of LAUSD third- and seventh- grade students scoring below the national average in reading, and nearly 90% of eighth- grade students scoring at or below the basic level in writing, the Library’s resources are more critical than ever.

A strong Library is good for business. An educated workforce is essential to successful business. Yet more than 50% of the Los Angeles area’s working age population suffer from low literacy skills. To battle the devastating personal and social effects of illiteracy, the Library operates free Adult Literacy Centers in 19 libraries citywide and provides self-tutorials on its Web site. The Library’s free collection of books, databases, education-support programs and other resources provide all people with the tools they need to succeed.
They've convinced me! I'm going to write the mayor's office now!

I'd love to hear what you--and especially you librarians or library studies students--think about this library crisis...


litlove said...

I'm not a librarian but I use libraries all the time for my research and I think it's terribly sad the way these cutbacks are operating. Although the internet provides a lot of information it's nothing compared to the richness and quality of a library full of books in all kinds of specialised areas. And so many people need libraries to gain access to reading material at all.

Write a good letter, gentle reader! I'm certainly behind you.

Maggie said...

Write the mayor and tell him how crappy his idea is, but it may not change anything. It is sad when one of the largest systems is having such difficulty.

In Memphis they are shutting 5 libraries completely. Forget about cutting back, just close the ones in the pporest neighborhoods. Who does that help?

Maggie said...

Oops *poorest*

Melanie said...

This sounds pretty predictable, actually. Although reason and logic point to keeping libraries open and funded and available to all, governments seem to think that they are the best place to cut first. Perhaps because govt. follows corporate culture so often, and corporations always fire the librarians/close the library to save money in cutbacks.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--I'll try to write a good letter!

maggie--I know, it's insane that this city can't sustain a decent library system.

melanie--it is predictable, isn't it?

Just recently library activists managed to stop a proposed new $1 transfer fee on book transfers between libraries, but they had to give in on a hike on the late fees. It makes sense, sort of, to stop an up-front fee and give in on late fees, but it's a shame there have to be cutbacks at all...

stefanie said...

Unfortunately when city budgets get cut the first things that get hurt are the libraries. We went through the same thing in Minneapolis a few years back and are still struggling to regain the level of service pre-cuts. I find it takes an active city population who is willing to speak out and confront the politicians to convince them that libraries are important. Our city council kept telling us we had to choose between libraries and police officers we insisted we could have both. My local branch library is one of the heaviest used throughout the city and it was going to be open only three days during the week. The neighborhood association voted to use some of our association funds to keep the library open on Saturdays. The Friends of the Library also admitted they had been lazy in their library advocacy and have made huge strides in stepping up their efforts. It feels like an uphill battle but finally, finally we are having little victories.

Talk to your neighbors, write your elected officials, volunteer to help the friends of the library spread the word. Good luck!

Gentle Reader said...

stefanie--We've made some strides through activism, too, and I'm hoping we can keep the motivation going. I received all these emails through my involvement in my neighborhood association and the Friends of the Library, and we're definitely ramping up our efforts. I'll keep you posted about the outcome, and thanks for the words of encouragement!

Susan said...

We have the same problem here in Ottawa and in Canada. The big debate is whether we need a new and bigger library somewhere other than downtown, except if they move it, no one in central Ottawa will have access! Plus, the city council keeps trying to get 'bigger' buildings built, which fall through...a new opera/classical music arts center, photography museum, were the latest failures. So far the outcry has kept the central library downtown (amid staff cuts, slashing new books and stopping the Bookmobile), closing two outer libraries in the no Sunday service in the summers, closed early on Fridays and open later during the week. For all the emphasis put on education, I would think city coucillor could remember that reading is the foundation of a good education. Good luck, gentle reader, let us know what happens. I can't imagine LA without libraries! (Nor Memphis, as one of your commentators said).

Gentle Reader said...

susan--we also have had debates about new, bigger libraries. They were planning to close my very local branch because it's small and doesn't have parking. They wanted to build a bigger library, with parking, but it was not going to be within walking distance any more. But the surrounding neighborhood was up in arms, and made such a fuss that they put a stop to the plan. It was amazing to see the local activism really work.

But when it's about the city budget, and something has to be cut, I'm sure the libraries will get the axe.

heather (errantdreams) said...

Ouch. Best of luck to you! I can't imagine reducing the budget by that much having any kind of good result. I often donate my review copies to our local library after I'm done with them if they aren't ARCs.

Matt said...

It's sad how politicians and officials all get their priority wrong. Education and library funds always get the cut first while they lavish money on military. Honestly I don't think my city needs any more police officers who are seen standing around talking on their cell phones.

Bring the neighbors together and start a letter campaign. :)

Gentle Reader said...

heather--that's a good idea, donating books to the library!

matt--that's the plan--local activism!

Darcie said...

Thanks for your post on the library!! I feel like such a whiner now for the little problems that we have in our library. And I am feeling very fortunate to have books published this year that are bought only a few days after the books come out! I feel very blessed. But I am very concerned; many times California is the trend setter for the rest of the country. It makes me realize that I need to be a more active advocate for the library. Especially since a referendum to build a new library was voted down last November! It is very sad the choices that the city is making and my guess is that the cuts will get worse because everyone is spending so much money on gas!