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LIBRARIES : 21 County Branches Keeping Doors Open Longer : Supervisors use $22.5 million from the General Fund to restore services, rehire laid-off workers and purchase books.

November 24, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nig Mei Wang Chen and her 6-year-old daughter, Cia-Cia, sat one recent Monday on the carpet in the San Dimas library, reading about dinosaurs.

Usually, it's a day the pair spend playing in the park or reading at their nearby home. But last week, the 21 branches of the Los Angeles County Library located in the San Gabriel Valley extended their hours--including the one in San Dimas, which had been closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but now will be open on those days.

"This is great. It helps my daughter make real progress in her reading," said Chen, holding a stack of her daughter's favorite dinosaur books and Peter Rabbit videos.

The county Board of Supervisors voted last month to use $22.5 million from the county's General Fund to restore library services to the level of two years ago, before harsh budget cuts were made.

The additional funding will allow every county branch in the San Gabriel Valley to be open at least four days a week and delays the need to implement a county library assessment fee, officials said.

In addition, they said, dozens of library workers laid off over the last two years are being rehired. Book purchases, which had dwindled, will resume.

Struggling to find a new source of income for the county library system beyond property taxes, the supervisors this summer established a special assessment district to fund library branches.

The $28.50 annual assessment fee would have been levied on property owners in unincorporated areas, as well as in 16 cities that have county branch libraries. The councils of those cities had agreed to the plan.

But after a disputed county budget surplus appeared, the supervisors chose on Oct. 14 to allocate General Fund money for libraries and set the assessment at zero.

"In this region it means libraries (that were) open two days will now be open four days, those open three days a week will be open five days, and West Covina and Rowland Heights will be open every day," said Michael Garofalo, administrator of the library's east county region, which stretches from Arcadia to Claremont and has 655,000 residents.

The region's book budget has been increased from about $100,000 a year to more than $1 million, Garofalo said. The countywide book budget is nearly $7 million.

Although dozens of extra library workers already have been recruited, Garofalo said many more will be needed. He said it will take until January to recruit enough staff to operate all the branches on the additional days they will be open.

County library managers said they will now be able to restart popular programs and stop renting books.

"We're going to reactivate morning storytelling for children," said Charles Kaufman, manager of the Hacienda Heights branch. "When we were closed in the morning, we were limited to serving older adults. Now this gives us the opportunity to help preschoolers."

The extra money for books will also put an end to his branch's controversial rentals of popular fiction books such as "The Firm."

"Funds will be available, so why should we have a rental collection that requires people to pay?" Kaufman asked.

Twenty people were waiting at the door last week for the branch's first morning opening, he said.

At the San Dimas branch, reference librarian Judy Wineberg said: "We plan to buy new reference tools, dictionaries and other nonfiction books, as well as children's easy readers." She said the branch will eventually be open every day except Thursdays.

Although Wineberg said she is pleased with the infusion of funding, she agrees with County Librarian Sandra Reuben that the library's long-term funding problem is not resolved.

"We still need a funding base so we don't have to beg and plead for money every year," Wineberg said.

The county library system receives about $30 million a year from property taxes, but it needs more than $50 million to maintain its 87 branches, library officials say.

The county supervisors sought to allay some of those fears last month by voting to guarantee the system another $10 million a year--$20 million if there is a county budget surplus.

Open and Shut

New hours for San Gabriel Valley branches of the Los Angeles County Library:

Branch Mon. Tue. Wed. Thu. Fri. Sat. Sun. Baldwin Park* 10-8 10-8 10-8 12-6 10-5 Charter Oak* 1-8 10-5 11-6 10-5 Claremont* 10-9 10-9 1-8 1-6 10-5 Diamond Bar* 11-9 11-9 11-9 11-6 10-5 Duarte 10-8 10-8 10-8 10-6 10-5 El Monte* 10-8 10-8 10-8 11-6 10-6 Hacienda Heights 11-9 11-9 11-9 11-9 11-6 10-5 La Canada Flint. 10-8 10-8 1-8 12-6 10-5 10-5 La Puente* 10-8 10-8 11-6 La Verne* 10-9 10-9 12-9 11-6 Live Oak (Arc.)* 1-8 11-6 1-8 11-6 Norwood (El Mte.) 10-8 10-8 10-8 10-6 10-5 Rosemead 11-6 11-9 11-9 11-9 12-6 10-5 Rowland Heights 12-9 12-9 12-9 12-9 11-6 10-5 1-5 San Dimas* 11-9 11-9 11-9 11-6 10-5 San Gabriel** 1-8 11-6 South El Monte 10-5 12-8 12-8 12-5 Sunkist (La Pte.)* 10-8 10-8 10-5 Temple City* 11-6 1-8 1-8 10-5 Walnut* 10-9 12-9 11-6 10-5 West Covina 10-9 10-9 10-9 12-9 11-6 10-5 1-5

Notes: Hours such as 10-8 indicate 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

* Branch will add one or two days by Jan. 1, 1995.

** Branch will add three days by Jan. 1, 1995.

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