Got Libraries?

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

If you don't use the libraries in Los Angeles you may not know that – compared to those in other cities –- ours stand out in a way that's nothing to be proud of.

The libraries in LA are closed two days a week. Sundays and Mondays, no books or videos or help with homework.

This is true out in the neighborhoods, where library branches often take the place of safe parks and after-school programs.

And it's true even at the Central Library downtown.

I've been down there three times in the last month, doing research or, on one Saturday afternoon, giving a free lecture about LA architecture.

Each time, the reading rooms and the lobby were as busy as you'd think.

Students stream in looking for tips on how to find books and solve problems. I heard a man plead for help finding a piece of music recorded in the 1930s, or maybe it was in the 40s.

There's people looking into their family genealogy, reading the latest magazines or signing on to the Internet on the free computers.

Outside, couples lounged on benches around the building and visitors snapped photos of the fountains and their reptile sculptures.

The library, though, is closed on Sundays, the most convenient day for many people.

And it's locked up tight on Mondays. And after 5:30 in the afternoon on most other days.

If you have to go at night, you better plan on Tuesday and Thursday. Those are the only nights the central library of Los Angeles stays open until 8 o'clock.

The reason the library is closed so much – and that the staff has been cut by 28% -- is the tough budget spot the mayor and the City Council have gotten themselves in.

Curtailing library hours and laying off librarians doesn't save City Hall much money in the big picture. Less than is wasted at, say, the DWP.

But library books are not considered a vital service. And it's much easier, politically, than cutting police officers or reducing other services.

The police union, in fact, is one of the leading opponents of Measure L on next Tuesday's LA city ballot. It would guarantee the libraries a slightly bigger bite of the city's property taxes.

We're talking nibbles. But it's become a political football to be tossed around.

The City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa are supporting Measure L. So's the police chief, Charlie Beck, and, naturally, the city librarian.

But the Police Protective League objects that the measure would tie the hands of future City Hall budget cutters.

It's hard to know how much of the union's opposition is because the measure's chief sponsor is Councilman Bernard Parks.

He's the ex-police chief who's very much not liked by the police union.

But it's not just the union. The LA Times editorial board and others also think it's a bad idea.

The paper argues that shifting more of the city budget to libraries -- without increasing revenue -- just means less for other services.

And maybe those priorities should be set together, not made in isolation.

It's a good point. But I'll be voting with the libraries.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.