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It's Library Lovers Month: Consider the Library

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By Katherine Manderfield/Special to LAistWorld-renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges famously said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” In LA, Paradise is closed twice a week, in need of new books, and hard up for hired help. In the wake of City Council’s 2010 decision to cut library resources and employees, while simultaneously enforcing LAPL to pay for their own water and power, the city is experiencing a library crisis. To make matters worse, Governor Jerry Brown’s recent budget proposal cuts state funding for public libraries. If the library is Paradise, consider ours acutely lost.

Next month, Angelenos will weigh in on Measure L, a plan sponsored by Councilman Bernard Parks to increase city financing for Los Angeles Public Libraries. The measure calls for emergency funding to restore library hours from five days a week to seven, provide for new book purchases, and bolster library services like student tutoring, public computer access, and the promotion of literacy citywide. While the cause is undeniably worthy, the notion of expanding LA’s scarce city funds has raised valid concerns. With potential for Measure L to affect other city budgeted services—which include police and fire departments, transportation, and parks and recreation—Los Angeles residents will soon ask themselves: How much are our libraries worth?

Public libraries are among the only free sanctuaries left in LA. With 73 branches afforded to city residents, it is still possible to avoid crescendoing alt-rock at Starbucks, solipsistic neighbors, and the come-hither look that a turned-off television can sometimes sport. In a world that grows increasingly plagued by digital-induced ADD, an institution that holds quietude as a virtue is simply invaluable.

Furthermore, libraries remain at the forefront in support of an obscuring human activity: authentic community participation. While Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized the way people communicate, they’ve also diverted a basic human need for organic social engagement. Library services provide adult literacy workshops, sponsor neighborhood watch groups, and hold seminars for an array of demographics within the community. Public libraries promote often-over looked local cultures. They remind us that there are people beyond the screen, and perhaps next door, with whom we might find far more satisfying connections.

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And last year, an NPR article evinces libraries are downright cool. The smell of aged paper, the sound of stamping rubber, the guilty walk to the counter with a checked-out book weeks over due—a visit to the library is an experience in nostalgia most Americans share despite political, social, or economical differences. In a way, libraries are democracy manifested.

In times of economic turmoil, more people turn to library services for assistance. In 2010, OCLC reported 81% of economically impacted Americans had a library card and were 50% more likely to use library resources than individuals who were not impacted. And due to budget cuts in schools and extracurricular programs, a growing number of students—approximately 19,000—populate LA Public Libraries seeking homework help. As a result of inadequate library funding, too many of them just aren’t getting it.

“Libraries are the one American Institution you shouldn’t rip off.”
~Author Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Dreams

Defending libraries is akin to the adage ‘respect your elders’—it’s a stance impossible to contest. But where finance is concerned, priorities often shift nearsightedly. And while Measure L assures taxes won’t be raised, the lack of funding citywide raises multifaceted alarm. Public libraries encourage intellectual exploration, solitude, and refuge. The LAPL branches are no exception. Wherever you stand politically, our city libraries deserve earnest consideration next month and maybe, if you’ve got some, a little money.

Visit Yes On L to support Measure L and The Los Angeles Public Library.