04 October, 2010

US Libraries

Back in June and July I was lucky to be able to tour some US libraries - some of the biggest and most beautiful in the country and indeed the world. Our group of 14 visited Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, Washington DC and New York.

Over the next few weeks I will share the highlights from each city we visited.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) system has over 6 million volumes and is one of the largest public library systems in the world. There are 72 branches and a beautiful Central Library that includes significant art works.

The library service was established in 1872 and had a vigorous growth during the 1920s. All branches have been refurbished over the past 15 years; these well managed programs (financed by 2 bonds) meant that there was budget for three extra branches to be built. Different architects have been used for all branches and all reflect their communities.

Los Angeles is going through what was described to us as the worst time financially the library has ever had. Prior to the current budgetary situation the usual opening hours for a Regional Library were 60 hours open week, and 40 hours per week for smaller branches. Over the past year opening hours have been reduced to 6 days per week (no Sundays) and following more budget cuts in the 2010/11 fiscal year will be reduced to 5 days; the average opening now is 40 hours per week. In order to minimise the impact of this, branches are being paired, with one branch open Monday –Friday; the other Tuesday –Saturday, with staff working between two branches.

Despite this, the library continues to provide much needed and valued services to an increasing number of people who use the library to improve their literacy, get assistance applying for jobs and providing a safe and secure place to spend time.

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