Los Angeles Public Library Faces "Devastating" Budget Proposal
15% cut in operating budget would mean loss of 328 positions, six-day service
Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 05/03/2010
- Seven-day service already reduced in April
- Union, advocates, library leaders argue against cuts
- Cap on retirements would mean young librarians get laid off
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed what seems to be a stable budget for the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), but an increase in costs attributable to the library (e.g., utilities) would decrease the operating budget by nearly 15 percent, cause a 28 percent reduction in staff (including 100 layoffs), and cut service systemwide to five days from six.
In an op-ed last week in the Los Angeles Daily News, former city librarians Susan Kent and Fontayne Holmes warned that “the library system is being torched again by shortsighted political cynicism.”
Roy Stone, President of the Librarians’ Guild, told LJ the proposed budget is “the most devastating situation we have faced,” noting that the precarious staffing levels mean buildings could close if a library worker is sick, on vacation, or on jury duty.
He said LAPL has been singled out for cuts. The Guild has created Save L.A. Libraries! to call attention to the situation.
“We are planning actions with the public and with our members and members of the Friends of the Library in a postcard campaign to show public support,” Stone said. “We have done storytelling on the lawn of the Mayor's house and other events, getting good media coverage.”
The City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is reviewing the proposed budget and on May 17 will present its recommendations to modify or accept the proposed budget. The Council and the Mayor should approve a final budget by early June.
New fiscal straits
In a memo, City Librarian Martín Gómez described a total budget that includes $58,231,363 in operating costs and $48,924,149 in related costs, plus $22 million to reimburse the General Fund for utilities and employees benefits.
That operating budget represents a drop from $68.4 million this year and $75.8 million in the previous year. Most of the money will come from salaries. LAPL currently has 1,156 authorized positions, according to spokesman Peter Persic.
The proposed budget reduces this position count by 328 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to 828 FTE positions, including maintenance of 94 vacancies, 107 jobs cut through the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP); and 100 layoffs, including 20 librarians, 20 clerk-typists, and 60 messenger clerks.
“Reducing service to five days per week will limit the public’s access to the library’s collection, public access computers, specialized programs, and other services,” Gómez stated in the memo. “With reduced staffing, the library will also limit its outreach to schools and participation in community events.”
The materials budget would be maintained at the current year level of $6,823,265.
The system includes a Central Library, eight regional branches, and 64 community branches. In April, LAPL reduced hours, cutting evening hours on Mondays and Wednesdays and eliminating Sunday service at the nine largest facilities. Now LAPL offers six-day service.
Early retirement issues
While the number of librarians who could accept the ERIP incentive was capped at 20, some 40 applied. In a comment on the op-ed, LAPL librarian Daniel Dupill suggested that it's illogical to cap the librarian class in terms of retrrements, "and then order layoffs from the same class."
"Wouldn't it make more sense for the City's future to keep the young professionals who earn less, use less benefits, and will be paying into the pension system for many years—rather than keeping older librarians who are ready to go and will be retiring in a few years anyway?" he asked. "Why can't we offer those librarians the opportunity for early retirement that they were denied?”
Narrower strategic plan
Because of economic uncertainty, Gómez told the board earlier this year that LAPL is pursuing no major strategic planning initiative but rather will focus on three major service goals over the next two years.
They are: “invest in reading readiness programs for young children (preschool-3rd grade) and their care givers; strengthen programs that are designed to help students succeed academically; improve our capacity to deliver information technology-based services, digital collections and a robust infrastructure for public use.”