By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"We need to make the City Council and mayor accountable for what they've been doing," Norris says. "We need to stand up and fight."
The 28 percent library staff cut hit this year even as Villaraigosa and City Council members — the highest-paid mayor, and the highest-paid City Council, in the U.S. — touted their own, exceedingly modest, voluntary salary cuts. While making sure to point that out to the press, they eliminated a record 328 full-time library positions, including 94 librarians and 190 clerical staff who check out, sort and shelve books. With such a major, sudden staff shortage, L.A. libraries had to close twice weekly instead of once a week, and reduce their remaining hours.
And if that weren't enough, the libraries were forced to reduce book-purchasing funds to a paltry $6.8 million per year.
During the 2001-02 recession, outgoing Mayor Riordan ensured that the libraries spent $16.8 million on books, about $4.50 per resident. Riordan has personally spent millions of dollars on an Eastside foundation that teaches adults to read and write English; he keeps a personal library of some 40,000 books, and for years led a book club with Michael York and Alan Alda. He's a big reader.
Villaraigosa, by contrast, spends many of his nights out on the town, is not a big reader even of the policy papers a mayor typically is expected to understand, and doesn't seek out the quiet studiousness of libraries.
In a city of 4 million people, Los Angeles' book expenditures have plunged to $1.70 per citizen under Villaraigosa — not enough to buy the Sunday New York Times.
Gomez, the city librarian, tells the Weekly, "It's been the most challenging year of my career. We have gone through a lot of significant changes. Not only in the reduction of hours but also our shrinking of the workforce. So it's been a lot to deal with."
Appointed by Villaraigosa in June 2009, Gomez, a passionate public library advocate with extensive experience, grew up in Compton, graduated from UCLA and began his 30-year career in the San Diego Public Library system. He remains optimistic that L.A. libraries will still act as the "people's university," where immigrants learn English, unemployed people search for jobs on the Internet and students get the homework help they need.
But he has to have the staff for that, and his workforce has been reduced from 1,156 full-time positions to 828. Asked by the Weekly if the mayor and City Council really worked "very, very hard," as Library Commission President Wieder puts it, to avoid these deep cuts, Gomez avoids the question.
"I want to believe that we're first in line when restoration comes," Gomez says. "I hope the community will let their elected officials know how important the library is."
Like neighborhood activists Hatfield and Handal, former Daily News Editor Kaye, whose political action committee, L.A. Clean Sweep, plans to financially support candidates to run against council incumbents Krekorian, LaBonge, Cardenas, Parks, Wesson and Huizar next year, says it's clear that Villaraigosa targeted the public libraries and the Department of Recreation and Parks.
"It's a fact they hit these departments harder than other departments," Kaye declares.
And when city tax revenues do finally pick up, many City Hall observers believe that money will not be initially directed to libraries but to Villaraigosa's political obsessions: the police and fire departments.
Complicating things for the libraries, and Angelenos who have been shut out of them, is the fact that city budget experts, including 8th District City Councilman Bernard Parks and City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, say Los Angeles probably won't see an economic turnaround for two or three more years, perhaps longer.
In other big U.S. cities, cooler heads prevailed this year. Far more modest cuts were made to the rest of the nation's significant municipal library systems. Deep cuts made no sense to the political leadership in Chicago, for example, where the libraries got an operating budget of $97 million — 93 percent from the city and 7 percent from the state.
In 2009, Chicago's budget was $104.8 million. This year's funding represents a drop of only $7.8 million, with three libraries, including its central library, open seven days a week and 71 of its 74 libraries open six days.
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg planned a major, $38 million budget cut for the New York Public Library, which operates on $254 million a year and oversees the world-famous main library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, among other libraries.
But unlike in Los Angeles, the New York City Council fought Bloomberg spiritedly, restoring $28 million to the budget. As a result, all New York Public Library branches are open six days, with the main library open every day. "We had enormous support from the City Council," says NYPL President LeClerc.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino restored more than $900,000 this year, when the state of Massachusetts cut library funding. "It showed libraries were important to him," says Boston Library spokeswoman Gina Perille. With 27 libraries, including a central library in Copley Square, Boston's system operates with $41.1 million. All branches are open six days a week, and the city's beloved central library remains open every day. Perille says Boston has no intention of closing libraries on additional days — especially not during the school year.
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