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Education

Los Angeles Ranks In Bottom Fourth Of 'America's Most Literate Cities'

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Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 10:45 AM

click to enlarge Despite protests, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made massive cuts to the Los Angeles library system in 2010 - PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • Despite protests, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made massive cuts to the Los Angeles library system in 2010
City of airheads, indeed.

According to a report released today by the Central Connecticut State University, Los Angeles slides into a pitiful 61st place in a ranking of the 75 biggest cities in the nation, from most literate to least, based on 2009 data.

Of the six categories used to determine a city's capacity for literacy, L.A. scored lowest in "Libraries," dragging our general score down significantly. For the past five years...

... we've placed No. 62, No. 56., No. 53, No. 57 and No. 60 overall, respectively -- and considering Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just slashed $22 million from the city's library budget, report spokesman Mark McLaughlin says we can expect even lower numbers next year.

The rankings are not based on actual measurements of reading skills; instead, each city is given a score based on the following six categories (with L.A.'s most recent scores in bold):

• Bookstores (per 10,000 population): No. 53

• Education Level: No. 54

• Internet Resources: No. 33

• Library Support, Holdings, and Utilization: No. 70

• Newspaper Circulation: No. 51

• Periodical Publishers: No. 58

In September 2010, LA Weekly staff writer Patrick Range McDonald detailed the L.A. City Council's "disastrous" budget sacrifice in "City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System."

Despite common misperception, the article revealed that kids in L.A. are more than likely to attend their local library, when given the chance:

Today, students in Los Angeles are still venturing to public libraries -- and in huge numbers. A recent survey by the Los Angeles Public Library system shows that 90,000 young people, or 15,000 students a day, visit one of the city's 73 libraries every week. With most LAUSD schools starting up this week, libraries soon will be packed.

McDonald goes on to compare the events leading up to the drastic Los Angeles library cuts to similar scenarios in other giant U.S. cities. He finds only L.A. and Detroit had resorted to such extreme gutting public libraries in the face of a growing deficit.

Many public library systems -- the five biggies are Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles -- have faced an ugly two years of recession-spawned budget cuts and trimmed hours. Yet political leaders who control the purse strings for the biggest cities fought and saved their libraries from severe harm.

Here, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa executed an unprecedented, and punishing, raid on the libraries. Last spring he convinced the City Council to close the city's central and eight regional libraries on Sundays, then slashed $22 million from the 2010-11 budget and closed all 73 libraries on Mondays beginning July 19. Library officials say as many as 15,000 youths -- plus an untold number of adults -- have been turned away every closed day this summer.

Today, literacy-report spokesman McLaughlin explains that a well-funded library system is one of the biggest indicators that a city's literacy rates will be higher.

"We find that if you have a high proportion of [library] branches per population ... that means that literacy is valued in that city," he says. "Generally, if libraries are well supported, other indications of literacy also appear."

He adds that Mayor Villaraigosa's decision to cut two days of library time per week "will almost certainly have an impact on literacy."

"They're very important because people, even in the worst of financial times, can access them and use them for all kids of things," he says. "They're a resource for not only reading but keeping up with the news -- and for financial planning and job hunts."

No L.A. librarians are available to speak today because all libraries are closed on Mondays, but Atwater Village librarian Elyse Barrere told the Weekly back in September that she was most worried about the effect the cuts would have on hundreds of Latino and black students who came in on Mondays to do their homework.

"I just keep thinking about those kids," she said. "The library was a neutral territory where the gangs didn't really come in. It makes me worry about them. It could be a very bad situation."

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