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Library Director Trading Budget Worries for a More Retiring Life

August 13, 1987|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

When an overwhelming number of California voters said yes to Proposition 13 in 1978, the Palos Verdes Library District--almost totally dependent on property taxes--lost two-thirds of its budget and laid off an equal proportion of its 100 staff members.

One of those slated to go was audio-visual librarian Dorothy Uebele. But she beat the library to it, leaving two days before the list of layoffs was posted to become an adviser and lecturer on library science at UCLA.

Although she came back to the Peninsula district in 1981, she is leaving again Friday, this time as director of the three-library system, and this time voluntarily. Uebele, 57, is retiring and moving away.

Though she can point to some successes, the system, which serves 85,000 people in the four Peninsula cities, still has not recovered its financial health.

If libraries are all about books, periodicals, records, films and, of late, videotapes, Uebele's stint as The Hill's top librarian has been all about getting money and plugging the gaps in budget and staff.

"Prior to 1978," Uebele said, "this was one of the better-funded libraries in California." While budgets have grown again--this year's is $2.5 million--and the staff is up to 75, she said the library's spending power is still only two-thirds of what it was a decade ago because of inflation.

"The staff has done an outstanding job to meet the needs of the people," Uebele said. But the library has taken some body blows that cannot be disguised.

Operating hours at the Malaga Cove and Miraleste libraries have been sharply reduced, and none of the libraries, including the main one at Peninsula Center, is open on Sundays. The branches also close Fridays and do not open on other days until 1 p.m.

Films and circulation of art reproductions have been eliminated, although videos are available at $2 for three days--the only service for which the library charges, Uebele said.

Perhaps the saddest change for Uebele, as well as for the elected library district trustees, has been the inability to buy sufficient library materials, including the popular cassette tapes of books, or even to buy some best-selling books.

Said Trustee Robin Hinchliffe: "We get complaints that there aren't enough books on tape and best-sellers, but we can't afford to buy all the best-sellers. When we have to cut a Harold Robbins, people get upset, and they have a right to. But we can't afford to get enough things."

The absence of Sunday hours is a major and justifiable target of complaints, Hinchliffe said. "We are in a community where most people work, " she noted. "Sunday hours are not just for students, but for the adults who are working."

Circulation, which stands about 750,000 items a year, is down from a peak of 1 million in the 1970s, a decline that library officials attribute partly to the reduction in hours.

Uebele and several trustees said they do not believe that the basic quality of the Peninsula library system has been damaged. "There are not as many new books, but we have maintained the quality of the collection," Uebele said. "We have an excellent business and reference collection."

She said a large amount of the materials budget goes into periodicals, a reflection of the library's community of students and people in business and technology.

"They need current information," she said, adding that she has been complimented by college students who say they are able to do much of their research work in the library.

Uebele has tapped the Peninsula Friends of the Library as a major source of volunteers and money. The group has pledged $100,000 a year for five years to pay for a computer system to replace the old card catalogues.

Uebele said she is glad that she likes working with budgets, because that is what she has spent much of her time doing. The property tax continues to provide 90% of the library's budget, and 27% of that money is from a special library augmentation fund controlled by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

What she has not liked about the job, Uebele said, has been the politics of getting that money from the board. "I don't like going to the Board of Supervisors for hearings and being insulted by (Supervisor Kenneth) Hahn, who says that people in the Palos Verdes Library District are so rich they don't need a library," she said, adding that Supervisor Deane Dana, who represents the Peninsula, has always been supportive.

A Hahn spokesman said there is a "germ of truth" in Uebele's comment. He said the supervisor believes that poorer areas of the county get short shrift because they lack clout.

Some trustees said they think Uebele is a better politician than she admits because she is respected in library circles, works quietly and "does not beat someone over the head," as Hinchliffe put it.

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