February 16, 2018

Long Beach, CA, Mayor Would Close Main Library

By Norman Oder

  • Main library is bigger than branches combined
  • Library had other suggestion for savings
  • New main library may be on agenda, if bond issue passes

The mayor of Long Beach, CA, wants to close the Main Library of the Long Beach Public Library to most public use and would instead expand service at the branches, but the 11 branch locations offer less public service space combined than the downtown Main. The Press-Telegram on July 24 quoted Mayor Bob Foster’s chief of staff as saying the Main Library would be unsafe in an earthquake, needs $10 million in repairs, and is costly to heat and cool. The closing plan, however, would save only $1.8 million.

Foster’s proposed budget is expected to be issued August 1, and until then, Eleanore Schmidt, Director of Library Services told LJ, “I can’t really comment” on the plan as reported in the press. She did confirm that library staff, when asked to propose cuts to meet a targeted $1.3 million budget reduction, had not recommended closing the Main Library. (The library’s funding is about $25 per capita.)

The Main Library, built in 1977, has 135,000 square feet of space, of which about 90,000 square feet are for public service, Schmidt said. The 11 branches offer less than 86,000 total square feet of space, including the 16,000 square foot Mark Twain branch, which opened in 2007 and is the only library newer than the Main Library. The branches, which offer five- or six-day service, would have seven-day service under the mayor’s plan. Some smaller branches have much higher per capita circulation than the Main Library, which houses nearly half the system’s materials.

According to the Press-Telegram, the mayor has recommended opening a temporary computer center downtown, while the Main Library building would still be used for the library administration and to store the city archives. However, that wouldn’t offer space for programs and school visits, among other library functions. The City Council must approve the mayoral budget, and one Council Member told the newspaper that they’d been kept out of the loop.

While voters in November will be asked to approve a $571 million bond measure, which might be used to build a new downtown library, the Main Library would close anyhow, according to the Press-Telegram. Meanwhile, library advocates have fought back. A new web site, Save the Long Beach Public Library, argues that libraries near downtown couldn’t handle the influx of those served by the Main Library and that many children downtown wouldn’t be able to travel to another library. While the Main Library does have infrastructure issues, such as a leaking roof, “there have not been any public notices of an immediate health and safety concern,” the web site states.

Online comments responding to the Press-Telegram article and to another article in the District Weekly show a mixed response. Some found the mayor’s reasoning sketchy, citing the inability to provide service under the mayor’s plan, while others suggested that the neglected Main Library should be replaced rather than preserved.

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