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Election 2011

Measure L: Porter Ranch Librarian Jane Dobija Says Slashed Funding For Libraries Limits Public's Access to Needed Information

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Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 7:00 AM
click to enlarge L.A. Librarian Jane Dobija
  • L.A. Librarian Jane Dobija

When it comes to the harsh budget cuts that have shuttered L.A.'s public libraries two days a week, and reduced operating hours on other days, Jane Dobija thinks back to her time as a radio journalist covering the Polish revolution in the late 1980s.

"When people lose the ability to get information," says Dobija, now a young adult librarian at the Porter Ranch Branch in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley, "that affects democracy."

Dobija worked as a freelance radio journalist for NPR in Poland when that country was transforming itself in the late 1980s.

She saw firsthand how an anti-bureaucratic social movement led by Solidarity educated Polish citizens about political repression. Getting that information into the public's hands, says Dobija, was essential to the revolution's success.

With city elections coming up on March 8, ordinary citizens in Los Angeles want to know about political campaigns, issues and simply where to vote. Dobija says people regularly go to the Porter Ranch Branch to get that information.

But that simple task, which many Americans take for granted, has become more difficult since L.A.'s public libraries are closed on Sundays and Mondays and close by 5:30 p.m three days a week -- a time that makes it nearly impossible for people to visit the library after work.

"When people can't get that information," says Dobija, "that affects how they live."

That's especially true for people who don't own computers and need to use them at the library.

It's a shocking situation, in which politicians have quickly turned one of the largest and most respected library systems in the country into an institution that's now less student-friendly, less worker-friendly, and less family-friendly.

L.A. Weekly, in fact, uncovered these embarrassing truths in the widely-read feature story "City of Airheads," which outraged many L.A. residents.

But Measure L, an initiative authored by L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, seeks to help those kids and families by better funding L.A.'s public libraries.

The ballot measure will not increase taxes, but dedicates a slightly larger slice of existing money in the city's general fund to the library system.

Measure L has been endorsed by Valley Industry and Commerce Association, AFL-CIO's Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Los Angeles NAACP, the PEN Center USA,

former Mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan, and many other politicians, labor unions, and civic groups.

On March 8, voters will ultimately decide if Measure L will pass or fail, and if L.A.'s public libraries will or will not suffer more drastic budget cuts in the future.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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