After almost a year of closed doors on Mondays, public libraries in the city of Los Angeles reopened Monday.
Amid protests from library users and employees, Monday hours at 73 L.A. Public Library branches fell to budget cuts last year. That changes today because in March, Los Angeles voters approved Measure L.
The measure does not impose any new taxes, but it does transfer a larger portion of existing property tax assessments to the City of L.A.'s public libraries through the year 2015. Over four years, that will raise tax revenues for the system from just under $80 million to $130 million a year.
Measure L funneled about $13 million to the Library Department for the fiscal year that started July 1. About $1.7 million of that will go toward hiring 300 part-time librarians and clerical staff, many of whom were laid off from full-time positions in recent years. The pool of "as-needed" workers will enable the department to open its 73 libraries on Mondays.
Library officials hope the revenue will enable libraries to open four nights per week, instead of two, and for the main library and eight regional branches to open every day.
The city's 64 branch libraries will also be closed for four hours Friday mornings starting this week to accommodate the Monday service.
"It was a library that really opened up the world for me," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during a news conference at the Richard Riordan Central Library downtown. "I know that librarians have played a role in virtually all of our lives. They're a positive role model in shaping the lives of young people much as teachers are."
The mayor acknowledged librarians have been hard hit by budget cuts over the last three years. Since 2009, the department has lost nearly 300 librarians and other staff--about 27 percent of its employees--due to budget tightening and early retirement incentives.
"I don't relish the fact that we've had to make as much in the way of cuts as we have," Villaraigosa said. "I know it's been difficult for librarians, but every one of you have continued to do your job and continued to be a professional."
Not everyone was happy about the re-opening.
The city is breaking its promise to re-hire fifteen full-time librarians and nine clerks, according to Roy Stone, president of the Librarians Guild.
"We've given them plans, and proposals, and ideas, and it could have been done," Stone said.
He acknowledged that laid-off librarians had been offered right-of-refusal to the part-time hours, but said the jobs came with no benefits and some were being offered only a few hours per week.
"Well thank you so much, I've been unemployed for a year now through no fault of my own," Stone said, echoing the voice of laid-off librarians. "We've given them proposals, and we're going to give them another one this week. It can be done where it doesn't break the budget," Stone said.
City Librarian Martin Gomez said that restoring library services on Mondays was a top priority for the department and that the longer hours that take effect today represent a first step toward fully restoring library access to Angelenos who use them for homework, lifelong learning, job resources and fun.