City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System 

Mayor mirrors Detroit's disastrous choice

Thursday, Sep 16 2010

Page 6 of 7

"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.

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY TED SOQUI - Angry librarians and library lovers protest Villaraigosa's unprecedented fiscal attack on the L.A. library system.
  • Angry librarians and library lovers protest Villaraigosa's unprecedented fiscal attack on the L.A. library system.

Related Stories

  • L.A.'s Culture War Over America's Last True Skid Row 36

    "Yo!" A black man in a filthy, yellow, collared shirt lies sprawled out in the middle of the Sixth Street sidewalk, out cold. No more than four inches from his face is a Business Improvement District officer, who shouts again: "Yo!" "Is he breathing?" asks a woman passing by, worried...
  • Paying Jay Z's Price 3

    We hate to be a Debbie Downer, but Mayor Eric Garcetti's claim today that a two-day, Jay Z-curated concert on the streets of downtown would "inject millions of dollars into the Los Angeles economy" is dubious at best. It appears that most of the revenue from $155, 2-day passes for the...
  • Quake Shocker 7

    In ex - City Councilman Hal Bernson's day, Los Angeles was a leader in preparing for the Big One, the 7 magnitude or greater earthquake that geologists say is inevitable and overdue - and will be unleashed upon Los Angeles by the San Andreas, Hollywood, Puente Hills, Santa Monica or...
  • Eric Garcetti's First Budget Shows That Changes Come Slowly to L.A. City Hall 3

    Mayor Eric Garcetti's budget for next year has been called a "status quo" plan. There were some tweaks from his predecessor's last budget, including, most notably, a plan to hire 50 new officers to write parking tickets. But even incremental change is difficult at L.A. City Hall. The plan drew criticism,...
  • Taxpayer Party 7

    The Jay Z-curated Made In America festival in Grand Park and on downtown city streets Aug. 30 and 31 would pay local taxpayers a relatively small amount for police, street closures and other public services. See also: Jay Z's Downtown L.A. Fest Could Gouge Taxpayers A motion introduced by City Council...

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.

Stating the obvious, Chicago Public Library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer says, "Mayor Richard Daley and our City Council really understand how important our libraries are for the community."

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.

Cindy Mediavilla, an expert on the history of public libraries in California, notes that during the Great Depression, libraries were packed with out-of-work citizens. With L.A. mired in stubborn, double-digit unemployment, Mediavilla says, it's "rather shortsighted to not fund libraries during these dark times. People need access to computers to apply for jobs."

Sari Feldman, former president of the Public Library Association and executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library system in Ohio, says the assault by city fathers on the library budget in L.A. is a prime example of how some elected officials "don't understand the services we provide every day. Working-class people and people out of work are the ones hardest hit by the cuts to libraries."

Critics call it a slash-and-burn tactic with no eye for the future. "They don't look far ahead when they budget," says Hatfield, of the mayor and council, "and when they don't look far ahead, they can't get ahead of the budgetary problems" — some of which they created.

Adds Clean Sweep's Kaye: "It reflects the values of City Hall in not caring about the general public‚ who don't have an advocate at City Hall."

A few years ago, Erica Silverman, a writer of children's books, decided she wanted to be a city librarian. "I've spent my whole life in libraries," she says. She went to school, made the grades and eventually got a job at the Edendale Branch Library in Echo Park, where screenwriters, students, English-language learners, seniors and others gather to learn or hang out in a friendly environment off the streets.

"I think libraries can be taken for granted because they do what they do quietly," Silverman says. She wonders if Mayor Villaraigosa, City Council President Garcetti and the rest of the City Council truly understand how a public library's numerous services help a community to enrich itself, especially in poor neighborhoods. "Access to information is important to a democracy," she says.

But firsthand experience also has taught her that open, easily accessible libraries create not just better cities and better cultures but better humans.

"I have interactions all the time with people," Silverman says. "I see kids' eyes light up when they find a book. I know we're creating lifelong readers."

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Street League Skateboarding Super Crown World Championship
    On Sunday, Street League Skateboarding touched down in the Galen Center at USC as part of a four-stop tour for SLS's Super Crown World Championship. The L.A. stop determined the roster for Super Crown, airing August 24th on FOX Sports 1. The final eight are Nyjah Huston, Luan Oliveira, Torey Pudwill, Shane O'Neill, Paul Rodriguez, Chaz Ortiz, Matt Berger and Ishod Wair. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Comic-Con's "Celebrity" Autograph Area
    A sometimes overlooked (but still incredibly unique) aspect of San Diego Comic-Con are the celebs available to sign autographs, as well as the autograph seekers themselves. If you've ever wanted to meet the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld or the guy who played Michelangelo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, chances are, as you wander the Autograph Area, you'll be able to connect with someone you didn't even realize you were waiting your whole life to meet! All photos by Rob Inderrieden.
  • Real Madrid Soccer Practice at UCLA
    Fans came out to greet world champion soccer team Real Madrid as they practice at UCLA. This is the first time that soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has practiced with the team this year. All photos by Jeff Cowan.