Measure L: Chinatown Branch Manager Shan Liang Says Immigrants Hurt by Severe Budget Cuts to L.A.'s Public Libraries

Read the most recent L.A. Weekly news story on public library budget cuts: L.A.'s Library Measure L.

At the Chinatown Branch Library in downtown Los Angeles, manager Shan Liang says Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese immigrants who know little, if any, English rely on her multi-lingual staff for getting through the day.

"You hear people's stories about how they struggle and it brings tears to your eyes," says Liang. "They don't know where to turn but the library."

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 -- Sunday and Monday -- due to severe budget cuts.

On the other days, L.A.'s 73 libraries operate under reduced hours with smaller staffs, with branches closing at 5:30 p.m. three days a week.

At the Chinatown Branch, Liang's immigrant patrons need help with filing income taxes, translating documents, and simply learning how to travel from one part of Los Angeles to another by public transportation.

"They are not aware of all the things that are available to them," says Liang. "We help them."

But that help is only there Tuesday through Saturday, and never past 5:30 p.m. on three of those days.

As a result, says Liang, there are always long lines at the service counter and a major drop in monthly average attendance at the Chinatown Branch. This time last year, before the budget cuts, the library saw 25,000 people come through its doors each month. Now, 20,000 people visit..

"I don't have late hours," says Liang, "and people can't make it."

It's a shocking situation, in which L.A. 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 neighborhood-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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