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Libraries Struggle As Funds Dwindle

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This week's LA Weekly published a scathing report on our city's dwindling library culture due to budget cuts deemed necessary by the Mayor and City Council. Shorter operating hours, staff cuts, and reduced book-purchasing funds have all contributed to a public library system that's now struggling to meet demand. The article, titled "City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System", holds Mayor Villaraigosa —backed by the City Council— squarely responsible for the system's current woes:

Here, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa executed an unprecedented, and punishing, raid on the libraries. Last spring he convinced the City Council to close the city's central and eight regional libraries on Sundays, then slashed $22 million from the 2010-11 budget and closed all 73 libraries on Mondays beginning July 19. Library officials say as many as 15,000 youths -- plus an untold number of adults -- have been turned away every closed day this summer.

These budget cuts come at a time when library use is on the rise — a rise that's typical in a bad economy:

Reflecting the effects of the recession, visits to Los Angeles public libraries jumped from 16 million in 2007 to 16.6 million in 2008 and 17 million in 2009. In a city of 4 million, there's a major demand not just for free books to read but for free wireless and Internet access.

As the city's unemployment numbers continue to climb, the number of citizens visiting the city's public libraries will, most likely, also continue to rise. Libraries are particularly valuable in economic downturns because that's where people can go to search for jobs and file for unemployment benefits. We can only hope that libraries will be able to meet that demand.

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