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Op-Ed

Keep the library doors open

For our quality of life, we need access to books -- especially children. To save L.A.'s libraries, vote yes on Measure L.

February 18, 2011|By Susan Patron

How do you assess a city's quality of life? I love Los Angeles. I've always lived here, my whole life, and I grew up being nurtured by one of its great institutions. It was free, available and welcoming, and I took it completely for granted.

I spent my childhood hanging out at the Los Angeles Public Library. I could ride to three different neighborhood branches on my bike. I read and read, enough to worry my mother.

All this prepared me, in an offhand and different way than school did, for life; it prepared me to want to become a librarian and a writer. I didn't know it, but I was being pleasurably introduced to big ideas. Quality of life for me as a child was determined in large part by the availability of public libraries, by their open doors. That access to books allowed me to think, in my own dreamy way, about choices and decisions, humanity, community and our shared, short ride on this planet.

Today, this quality of life in Los Angeles is no longer a given. We will not find an open door at our library on Sundays or Mondays. On those days, the great beating heart of our city, the Central Library, is only a beautiful, enticing resource whose doors are shut tight. For the first time in 139 years, the Los Angeles Public Library is unable to offer service more than five days each week.

The library's budget is only 2% of the total city budget. In the past two years, the library force has been reduced by 28%. The book budget has shrunk to $1.70 per capita, versus a national average of $4.20. This is shameful. Measure L can change it.

Measure L will progressively increase the library's share of existing city revenues. Within four years, it will increase the library's charter-required funding from the current 0.0175% to a maximum of 0.0300% of each $100 of assessed tax value on property within the city.

The measure doesn't call for a tax increase. It calls for a change in city priorities, a change in how we allocate the funds Los Angeles already collects. That change of priorities is crucial. The city's leaders have shown that they cannot be trusted to weigh the worth of our library appropriately as they grapple with L.A.'s deficits. Their unwillingness to give the library its fair share means that the voters must step in.

Measure L will restore six-day-a-week service to all our libraries, and eventually seven-day-a-week service to our Central Library and six regional libraries. It will increase support for afterschool and summer programs, and provide funding for books and other materials.

Measure L has been endorsed by a wide range of business and civic leaders, including former Mayor Richard Riordan and authors Ray Bradbury, Joseph Wambaugh and Janet Fitch.

Children have little say in their quality of life; they entrust that to us. I'm voting yes on Measure L — yes on open doors, yes on big ideas, yes on a welcoming refuge at their branch library for every kid in every neighborhood.

Measure L stands for Los Angeles libraries, for light-filled open reading rooms, for lasting benefits for children and families and seniors, for literature and leisure reading, for the promise of literacy to those who cannot yet read and for librarians who offer an array of professional services that will enhance the quality of life for all of us.

Susan Patron is the author of several novels for children, including "The Higher Power of Lucky," which was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2007. She worked in children's services at the Los Angeles Public Library for 35 years.

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