We keep hearing about how the U.S. economy is struggling. Those of us in libraries know how, during those times that hurt the majority of us, libraries tend to be particularly hurt. Here’s a story from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune about the fortunes of the County of Los Angeles Public Library (COLAPL). It’s like old-home week for me, because I grew up among the branches of the COLAPL. One of my first jobs as a teenager – way back in the late 60s – was at the Claremont branch of the COLAPL.

The story says:

As it is, Los Angeles County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd said, libraries never fully recovered from the mid-1990s, when the state chopped their funding in half by taking local government money to balance its budget.

Increased foreclosure rates and fewer home sales now are pulling down local property- tax revenues, which the county’s library system depends on to pay for about 60 percent of its budget, Todd said.

“For us in the county, it’s all about money. We never have as much of it as we would want to do all the things we want, but that’s always been the history of libraries,” said Todd, who oversees libraries ranging from the tiny Sorensen Library in West Whittier to larger libraries in Duarte, Rosemead and West Covina.There are county libraries in 51 cities and nearly all unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, Todd said, “and we’re always struggling to make sure we have enough money.”

Ah, that takes me back. I worked as a clerk in the West Covina library for a while when I was in college. Yeah, back in 1971 and 1972.

But it makes me sad to see how libraries – institutions that have been around for over a century in so many places in the U.S. – continue to struggle financially. I feel that part of the problem, in the first decade of the 21st century, is how difficult it is for so many librarians to explain exactly what it is that we do. We’re not telling everyone that we do literacy – we celebrate literacy, and we support literacy. Literacy is what we are and what we do, every day.

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