Yesterday, I posted about the Marion County Public Library in Indianapolis cutting back its hours at all branches so it could keep them open. That's the kind of move most big cities have had to make during the recession. In Los Angeles, they decided to be a little more drastic:
Here, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa executed an unprecedented, and punishing, raid on the libraries. Last spring he convinced the City Council to close the city's central and eight regional libraries on Sundays, then slashed $22 million from the 2010-11 budget and closed all 73 libraries on Mondays beginning July 19. Library officials say as many as 15,000 youths — plus an untold number of adults — have been turned away every closed day this summer.
Unlike the angry City Council in New York, which successfully fought a large library budget cut proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti and 4th District City Councilman Tom LaBonge, chairman of the council's Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, quickly caved on Villaraigosa's proposed 2010 budget, of which the library cuts were a part.
Then, joining Garcetti and LaBonge, who claim that every bit of fat had been cut citywide, forcing them to shutter libraries, the council voted 10-3 to approve the mayor's budget. Voting yes were Garcetti, LaBonge, Ed Reyes, Paul Krekorian, Paul Koretz, Bernard Parks, Jan Perry, Herb Wesson, Bill Rosendahl and Greig Smith. Only Richard Alarcon, Janice Hahn and Jose Huizar voted no. (Dennis Zine and Tony Cardenas were absent.)
The cuts are radical, and unlike anything seen in a big U.S. city in this recession. Los Angeles now joins the dying city of Detroit as the only significant U.S. municipality to close down its entire library system twice weekly — a choice Detroit leaders made during the early-1980s recession, and from which its cultural core seems never to have recovered.
The story notes a couple of things libraries are important for other than being places for getting books and other materials for free. They are places our kids can go that are much better than a lot of other places they can hang out. And in most cities, they form part of the "cultural core" that serve as reminders of our struggles toward civilization.