Originally published in Library Journal.
County of Los Angeles Public Library officials are restoring service hours to all the libraries that previously saw their hours reduced owing to 2009–2010 budget cuts. This comes after the Board of Supervisors approved this year’s $178 million library budget, an increase of $3.6 million. The system, one of the country’s largest, serves more than 3.5 million residents in 51 of the 88 incorporated cities of Los Angeles County.
Effective Sept. 2, nearly all of the libraries will be open as many hours as they were before the cuts. (All libraries will have their hours fully restored by the end of fall. One library will have its hours restored after completing renovations and currently two libraries have modified schedules based on service needs and city contracts.)
County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd explains why the news is so important. “Our libraries are almost busier than ever,” she said. “It’s so important that we were able to get these hours back because it’s really essential to a lot of the communities we serve.”
This year’s budget increase is only a partial restoration of the library’s original budget, which was cut by about $5 million in 2009–2010. As a result of that cut, the workings hours of approximately 39 of the system’s 85 libraries were impacted: 32 libraries lost a day; six libraries lost two days; and one library lost three days.
Todd said those lost hours were a blow to the communities who relied on those libraries for the use of their computers, Wi-Fi, and as a resource for finding jobs. It also reduced the effectiveness of those library’s programs for both young people and adults.
“When those libraries were open only four days a week, there were much fewer slots to do a storytime, do an adult program,” she said. “So [restoring the hours] gives them a little more breathing space…maybe to schedule a few programs at a time a little more convenient” for patrons.
The cuts were driven by the recession. The library is primarily funded by a dedicated share of the property tax, which during the recession actually went into negative growth. In addition, the county normally gives the library some general fund dollars. But those come from a combination of sales and property taxes, so that funding was reduced too.
Todd called the situation “a perfect storm” and said she was forced to reduce the library hours as a result, but the county was able to keep from closing libraries and laying off staff because it had strong reserve funds.
As areas in the state slowly recover from the recession, the board found that it was possible to restore the library hours. Todd has been getting positive responses from the community officials after sending out the news.
“We’re getting emails back [from our city managers and city councils] saying, ‘oh that’s fabulous, oh that’s wonderful, oh we’re so thrilled.’ For many of them, because the recession hit everyone hard, they even looked at trying to fund an extra day of service for their city [library], but they didn’t have the money either,” she said.