Aside from the dying city of Detroit, Los Angeles is the only significant U.S. municipality to close down its entire public library system two days a week due to severe budget cuts.
At the Robertson Branch Library on L.A.'s Westside, young adult librarian Henry Gambill has seen the fall out of reduced operating hours, as well as reduced staff. "Everything takes a lot longer now," he says.
Gambill's talking about the Los Angeles Public Library system's book loaning system, in which a student or senior citizen can order a hard-to-find book from one of 73 branch libraries and get it delivered to his or her neighborhood library.
In the past, a book ordered on a Thursday or Friday would usually arrive on Monday. Now that libraries are closed citywide on Sundays and Mondays, that book may not get to its destination until Tuesday or Wednesday.
Just those few extra days make a difference, says Gambill, especially when a student needs a book quickly to complete his or her school work. "They look at us," says the librarian, "and they just don't understand why it takes so long."
It's an increasingly difficult 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 senior citizen-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 email@example.com.