Bill Boyarsky
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Library's hard times

After Independence Day, Los Angeles city libraries will drop a day from their schedules. “There will be 100 layoffs from the library and this will trigger a reduction from six days a week to five days a week,” Martin Gomez, the city librarian, told me.

I talked to him the day after he sat through a long City Council meeting in which the lawmakers voted to eliminate 761 city jobs beginning July 1 to make up for a $485 million deficit.

Gomez said of the 100 positions he must cut, 20 would be librarians, 20 clerks and 60 support workers who sort books, put them on shelves and do other jobs needed in the 72 branch libraries and the big downtown Central Library.

This would reduce library expenditures by $8 million. The cut would come on top of another fiscal blow administered when the council required the library to pay the city General Services Department $22 million a year for the security guards and custodians supplied to the libraries. It adds up, Gomez said, to a $30 million reduction.

As I talked to Gomez, it became clear that among the hardest hit would be the public school students who come to the library to use computers, do research, do homework—and to take out books.

The library has focused attention, Gomez said, “helping students succeed.” The process begins with early childhood reading programs in the branches, and includes encouraging the students who come to the library after school.

This is especially important now, he said, since “school libraries are in worse shape than the public libraries.” Gomez is considering closing the libraries on Mondays so they could remain open on Saturdays. But this would deprive students of the important first day of the week they need to get going on their school assignments.

I can testify to the importance of the libraries to young people. When I was reporting for the Los Angeles Times, I dropped in on branch libraries, especially those in poor neighborhoods, including those where Spanish speakers outnumbered the English speakers. It was great to see the students at work, using the public libraries as a path to success in life, just as previous generations of immigrants have done.

Gomez is trying to build some support to fight the cuts and possibly raise more revenue, maybe from a parcel tax allocated to the libraries The library has large corps of volunteers, centered around its foundation and with its docents. A few days before the council meeting, he spoke at the docents’ annual luncheon. He reminded them “this is a democracy at work and they have their chance to let their representatives know what they think about the process and how it may impact the library.”

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