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County to Shut 10 Libraries, Cut Hours at All Branches

November 06, 1992|HECTOR TOBAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County officials said Thursday they will close 10 public libraries, a cost-cutting move that was greeted with anger and sadness by employees and patrons at libraries from Lancaster to Lakewood.

To help cope with a $10.2-million budget shortfall, county librarian Sandra Reuben said she will also reduce hours at the county's 82 remaining libraries by 13% and cut new book purchases by 60%.

"We've lost a substantial amount of revenue," Reuben said, referring to recent reductions in state funding when money was shifted from libraries to public schools. "We had no other alternative."

Effective Nov. 15, the county will close the Del Mar branch in Rosemead, Edgewood branch in West Covina, Manhattan Heights branch in Manhattan Beach, Point Dume library in Malibu, Weingart branch in Lakewood, and the Sunnyslope and Sorensen branches serving unincorporated communities near Pasadena and Whittier, Reuben said.

A bookmobile serving Lancaster and two libraries in Carson--the Dominguez and Villa Carson branches--will also close.

Books and supplies at the sites will be moved to other facilities. Librarians and other employees will be transferred, Reuben said, and no permanent employees will be laid off. However, like other county departments, the library system is trying to cut payroll costs by implementing an early retirement program.

The Los Angeles public library system is the largest in the nation--1.2 million people hold library cards. The system serves 52 cities and all of the county's unincorporated communities.

Library employees were informed of the closures one day before they were made public. Many were having trouble accepting the fact that the libraries would soon stop serving readers.

At the small, storefront Dominguez branch library in Carson, librarian Michelle Rodriguez mourned the loss of a community institution.

"It's going to be terrible," Rodriguez said. "The kids come in after school to do their homework. People from the community, you get to know them. They become your friends."

Rodriguez expressed doubt that her job would be saved. "With 10 libraries closed, where are they going to place us?"

Richard Chadick, 50, who has been walking a few blocks to the Dominguez library every week for the past 20 years, was angry but not surprised by the news. Signs of the library's fiscal difficulties had been evident for months, he said. A few months ago, for instance, the branch was forced to cancel its subscription to his favorite magazine, Science News.

"Everything I read they discontinue to save money," said Chadick, a security guard. "It seems I'm the only one around here interested in science."

Chadick saw the Dominguez library's closing as a sharp blow against literacy and culture in the working-class neighborhood. "The library lets the people be informed of what's going on in the world," he said. "Information is there on everything you want to know without having to buy books."

At the Weingart branch library in Lakewood, librarian Irene Yang Wang contemplated the task of beginning to move 30,000 titles, including a large collection of Chinese and Korean literature.

For children in the surrounding community, the library's demise will mean the loss of a place in the neighborhood to work on class assignments or to read Nancy Drew stories and mystery novels.

"This is where I've done all my research on animals and things like that," said Keri Corbin, 11, who lives within walking distance of the doomed library. "This is the only place I can get my research. Now I have to go to some library far away. And I know everybody here. I've been coming her since I was in kindergarten."

Another young library patron, 12-year-old Ling Kong, added: "It's very sad. For book reports, they have lots of information. This place helps me a lot. I always get A's."

Library assistant Lisa Kuan was angry that the Lakewood library is closing, saying that it serves a large Asian and Latino community.

"They really dropped a bomb on us," Kuan said. "It was shocking. We didn't think we would be a target. . . . I think this was a political decision--they waited until after the election to announce it."

Lakewood City Councilman Wayne Piercy said he already had begun to hear complaints about the closure from neighborhood residents, some of whom will now have to travel about two miles to the nearest county library.

"It's a blow," Piercy said. "I don't know what alternatives we have. I know the city can't pick up the gap and fund it. It's not a good day for us."

During budget deliberations in September, Reuben had announced the county's intention to close as many as 12 libraries. The Board of Supervisors approved the shutdowns, and supervisors' representatives met with library officials last month to decide which libraries should be closed. Reuben said a library was closed only when another library was nearby to fill the gap.

The closures will be among a host of cost-saving measures. Magazine subscriptions have been reduced by half. Sunday hours have been sharply reduced--only eight libraries remain open on Sundays to serve a 3,000-square-mile service area.

Reuben said closing 10 sites will allow her department to keep the rest of the public library system functioning with adequate hours and staffing.

Still, Reuben said, the closures and the budget crisis are hurting morale among librarians in the county system.

"It's almost like going through a period of mourning," she said.

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