Stories about libraries don't sound terribly sexy, but you wouldn't know that from the response to Patrick Range McDonald's story about the cutting of L.A. Public Library hours (“City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System,” Sept. 16). So far we have received nearly 100 comments, including this bit of eloquence from Paul Elliott:
“The library is the last place left in our computerized world where a person can step into a million different worlds and lives by just turning a page, where imagination is not drowned out by commercial hype and deafening laugh tracks, where a child can learn what it means to be human, adventurous, loving, inquisitive, and capable of dreaming. Those who work in the library system are the keepers of the keys to all of that. While everyone realizes budgets must be cut … removing support from the library impacts everyone from the lost on the streets to the Ph.D.”
Marilyn has empirical proof, and a suggestion: “I work as a volunteer reading to kids at my local library on Tuesdays. All summer long, the library was PACKED with kids and their parents and grandparents and siblings, reading on the rugs, reading on the benches, reading, reading, reading. The computers were full. It was (is) really the 'people's university.' A great city has great libraries. When Pasadena's libraries were to close, the citizens rose up to support, keeping them open with their own additional funding. Our L.A. citizens would do that too if anyone asked.”
More heartfelt testimony from Madeleine Kerr: “As a children's librarian at LAPL, I applaud this article and its exposure of how little value our city government places on public institutions that provide invaluable support and resources, like our public library.
“A library is not just a building with books. Libraries reflect the current culture and provide books in print, digital and recorded versions, visual materials as well as in-person help to find the information that helps any person be who they want to be — whether that is becoming an American citizen, a filmmaker, a knitter, an armchair explorer of all that is Egyptian, learning to speak Italian, a kitchen scientist or a person with a job.
“Libraries and librarians and our clerical staff help everyone from everywhere in the city, and it is the most terrible thing that in a city that derives so very, very much from cultural works, that so little is done to support the cultural and public institutions that cost no money for its citizens and give to all.”
And @ollada suggests: “If you have to make cuts in critical services, do it in a smart way: Stagger the days/hours: ROTATE THE CLOSURES. Divide the city into regions and make sure each region has at least one library open every day of the week and the closure days are different [at] each library in each region. This may still be hard but at least there is still access — DUH DUH DUH, City Council!“
Jayme Davis makes an important point (and gets extra points for the literary reference): “This article emphasizes the impact on children, but I also worry about the adults, often without homes, who rely on the libraries as a primary source of connection (for finding jobs, contacting friends and family, exploring ideas, etc.). In the context of Villaraigosa's excessive funding of the LAFD, the closing of the libraries is uncannily reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451. We don't have to burn books … just close the libraries, it's more efficient that way.”
Not everyone feels the way the above readers do; some aren't quite so disturbed. Edward Hecker writes, “It's nice to have public libraries. They are NOT a necessity. For years the only libraries that existed in this country were private. If people want libraries, they will fund a bond issue. They will form a government independent library organization and fund it. … People should be thankful that L.A. is striving to live within its income, rather than practicing unsustainable overspending. Libraries are luxuries, not necessities.”
“With the growth of the Internet,” adds Alex, “I hardly think closing down the library system for 2 days every week is the catastrophe this article purports it to be. People will learn to get their information elsewhere and the people that wanted to go to the library on the days it is closed can go … on one of the 5 days it is open. L.A. needs to get a grip.“
Final word goes to Kim Cooper, who lets us know how unhappy readers can make themselves heard: “Thank you for this thorough and disturbing account of the crisis facing our library system. The budget numbers, when laid out so clearly, certainly tell the tale. Community members who are distressed by what has happened under this administration can visit the SaveLAPL website and with one click send an e-mail to Mayor Villaraigosa and all members of the City Council letting them know that we won't stand for our libraries being shuttered. Speak up at savelapl.org.”
Last week, food critic Jonathan Gold received an inquiry from Richard Kurzer: “I hope you are in good health. But if the end were near, which restaurant would you let cater your funeral? (Hopefully Chinese.)” Gold responded — knowledgeably, interestingly, lovingly as only Mr. Gold can — with a few suggestions for Chinese and Korean, concluding: “But who am I kidding? In my family, funerals are occasions to stuff down truly heroic amounts of deli, and when I have to go, I will die as I lived: seen off with Langer's pastrami.”
Barbara Rose responds, a bit fatalistically: “Dear Mr. Gold, may I be adopted by one of your family members in advance of your passing so that I may attend your funeral and grieve for you over Langer's #19 and a cream soda at the reception following services?”
The September 16 article “City of Airheads” said it would cost taxpayers 65 cents per child to reopen city libraries on Sundays and Mondays, as compared with $5,245 spent per child in the city's antigang program GRYD. The correct figure, per child, to reopen the city's 73 libraries is $6.40.
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