Update, 2:50 p.m.: The Library Foundation of Los Angeles gave a major boost to the Measure L campaign, contributing $200,000 to get the ballot measure passed. Read more after jump.
Last summer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the L.A. City Council took the extraordinary step of closing the city's entire public library system two days a week — the only major city in the United States to do such a thing in recent years.
The result, according to Teri Markson, a children's librarian at L.A.'s Fairfax Branch, has not been pretty.
“What we've gone through the past year has been incredibly painful,” says Markson, a 15-year Los Angeles Public Library veteran, “because we can't do what we've previously been able to do.”
Due to drastically reduced library hours and staff, which were caused by severe, City Hall-approved budget cuts, Markson says her outreach work to local schools has been diminished, it's very difficult to arrange student field trips to the Fairfax Branch, and the library is now closed on Mondays — a crucial day that starts off a student's academic week.
“The library is where (kids) type up their homework,” says Markson, noting that many students from low- to middle-income families don't own a computer and printer and go to a library to use those things.
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 kid-friendly, less student-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.
The Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News oppose the measure, throwing out an argument that essentially says the increased monies for libraries could take away funding from the police and fire departments.
The L.A. Times and Daily News don't consider the fact that Villaraigosa and the City Council have plenty of opportunities to avoid such a situation by cutting still-existing fat from the city's budget.
If voters don't approve Measure L on March 8, things may only get worse at Los Angeles's once highly-regarded library system.
“There's a real concern about what cuts may come if the measure doesn't pass,” says Markson.
Update: Library Foundation Chairman Jeff Brown says about a recent $200,000 contribution to the Measure L campaign: “We have to save our neighborhood libraries. If we are going to succeed, I need every individual and organization that cares about our civic life to join us by sending a donation and getting involved.”
He adds, “If Measure L does not pass, an already injured library system will be further decimated and Angelenos will see more closures and reduced hours.”
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.