Librarians Protest Budget Cuts, Crowding Hollywood Intersection During Rush Hour

About 50 librarians and book supporters gathered on all four corners of a busy Hollywood intersection last Friday evening during rush hour, earning honks in support of saving L.A.'s dwindling library system. This year, it has already faced major cuts—for one, libraries are no longer open seven days a week—and now faces even heavier ones in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed budget, which will take affect July 1st when libraries could go from six to five days of open doors.

"[The proposed budget] is completely backwards—it has funding towards upper escheleon positions and layoffs in the hundreds in all the lower positions," explained Shannon Salmon, a librarian who runs the SaveTheLibrary advocacy website. "It's just a mess."

In a letter (.pdf) detailing how the proposed budget would affect the city's 83-libary system, City Librarian Martin Gomez said the workforce will be reduced by 328 positions, a 28% cut in the workforce. "The impact of a reduction of this size will require the library to reduce service hours from 6 days a week to 5 days a week at all 73 libraries citywide," he wrote. If 124 positions could be spared from elimination, the current 6-day a week schedule could be maintained.

For example, 82 slated-to-be-cut positions are messenger clerks, paid $27,624 to $34,326; 85 are clerk typists, paid $35,475 to $44,098.

Making things worse, an unplanned loss of 24 positions could mean even making a 5-day service schedule a sketchy endeavor hindering the library's "ability to maintain a consistent 5-day service program," said Gomez.

The proposed operating budget is $58.8 million, according to Library Journal. Last year it was $68.4 million and $75.8 million the previous year. The total budget is $82.8 million, which his actually an increase from last year by $293,125, but the library is paying for things it didn't usually in the past, such as custodial, security, building maintenance, gas, fuel and fleet costs. Other costs include retirement, employee benefits, utility costs and early retirement payouts.

During the last fiscal year, the library system saw 17 million people through its doors and borrowed over 18 million items.

"Right now the budget is in City Council's hands. So far it's looked really bad." said Salmon last Friday at the protest, located in view of a new Save the Library billboard at Sunset and Highland (see photo above). She said discussions have included having volunteers run libraries. "How ridiculous is that, do you want volunteers having access to all your private information?"

On May 17th, the Council's Budget & Finance Committee is expected to deliver recommendations to the full council, setting forth deliberations until a budget is approved and then signed by the Mayor.

In a Daily news op-ed two weeks ago, former top librarians Susan Kent and Fontayne Holmes felt the situation was out of hand, considering that the library system makes up only 2% of city's budget. "The library system is being torched again by shortsighted political cynicism," they scoffed.