At L.A.'s Exposition Park Branch Library near the University of Southern California, children's librarian Maddy Kerr has seen firsthand the troubling after-effects of severely reduced operating hours at the Los Angeles Public Library system.
“People tell me that if we're closed,” says the librarian, “they can't get their (unemployment or veteran) benefits.” She adds, “I find it personally heartbreaking.”
Military veterans and the unemployed aren't the only people hurt by slashed services at L.A.'s public libraries due to steep budget cuts.
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.
At the Exposition Park Branch, which used to operate seven days a week, there's been a wide impact on adults, children, and high school and college students, many of whom need the library's computers to apply for governmental benefits or to complete school work.
Many school children, for example, take part in an online, computer reading program set up by the Los Angeles Unified School District, in which teachers can easily monitor students' reading assignments.
Yet Kerr points out that many kids from low-income families don't have a computer at home and must use one at the Exposition Park Branch library. Now that the library is closed two days a week, students have less access to a computer to complete their school work.
It's a regular problem for students throughout Los Angeles, but particularly in lower income neighborhoods — the kind of community the Exposition Park Branch serves.
“There's a greater need for student assistance here,” says Kerr.
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 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.