In northeast Los Angeles at the Cypress Park Branch Library, acting senior librarian Patrick Xavier has been dealing with the daily fall out of severe budget cuts to the Los Angeles Public Library system, which has reduced his staff.

“It's a struggle to maintain a high level of customer service when you have to make sure the day-to-day things need to be done,” Xavier says.

In addition, to far less librarians on the job, Los Angeles joins the dying city of Detroit as the only significant U.S. municipality to close down its entire library system twice weekly — a choice Detroit leaders made during the early-1980s recession, and from which its cultural core seems never to have recovered.

At Cypress Park Branch, Xavier's smaller staff has little time for doing important outreach programs to local schools, in which librarians help students understand the importance of using a neighborhood library to achieve academic success.

Instead, the focus has turned to simply making sure books are shelved and in the correct order — due to budget cuts, Xavier was forced to let go of two clerks who usually shelve books.

Although public libraries throughout Los Angeles have been closed on Sundays and Mondays since last summer, Xavier still deals with many people who don't know about the reduced hours, and they're often surprised when they find out.

“We're always explaining the new schedule to people,” says Xavier. “People just expect us to be open on Monday.”

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 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 pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

LA Weekly