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Diamond Jubilee: Seventy Five Years of Public Service

III. Facilities and Finance

Table of Contents

It has been said often that public library service is in many ways reflective of the economy. The Los Angeles County Public Library is no exception. During the 1920s, the Library prospered and expanded, but by 1932 service hours were being reduced and salaries had been cut nine to fourteen percent. In 1933, diminishing resources were further strained by the earthquake, which destroyed one branch and damaged many others, four of them heavily. During that same year the book budget had to be cut by over sixty percent and circulation statistics in subsequent years began showing the inevitable effect of the shortage of stock. Then came the war. Fewer new books were published, and the Library had difficulty obtaining even many of those. Urgently needed supplies were impossible to get. Personnel was uprooted: by June 1943, there was a seventy-nine percent turnover in staff! Adding to this, during the war the Library's service-area population increased by over one third!

After the war, the Library found itself reeling before a population expanding in great disproportion to its financial base. Demand for improved service came from every sector of the County and the Library was especially challenged to provide new facilities in the new subdivisions and to renovate and expand older facilities neglected since the Depression. Compounding its problems was the Library's historical policy of providing minimum building facilities, often "storefront" libraries. Worse still, the Library could not compete with the cities (which had increased in number from forty-five to seventy-three in just a few short years) because General Law cities operating municipal libraries had a thirty cents per one hundred dollars assessed valuation while the maximum tax rate for County libraries was ten cents. (As a matter of fact, Los Angeles County Public Library had operated on revenue from a tax rate of only three to five cents until 1937, which rate was gradually increased over the next twenty years to just under nine cents.) The County Library found itself woefully underfinanced, but its citizens were demanding the same level of professional service offered by municipal libraries. Seeing this discrepancy, cities began to withdraw from the County Library system, further reducing its tax base. The Library was in serious trouble.


Chairman Raymond Darby of the Board of Supervisors cuts the ribbon at the dedication of the Lennox Library (1948). This was the first County-owned library building since Lancaster twenty-four years before. The first community civic center in unincorporated territory was built at Lennox in 1948. This proved quite fortuitous because it offered the Library an opportunity to open its first County-owned library building since Lancaster was completed back in 1923. Encouraged by the success of this project, in 1950 the Library embarked on an ambitious ten-year building program just as increased assessed values throughout the County began to produce increased revenues. During the first half of the decade, eighteen new buildings were opened, eight on County-owned sites budgeted by the Library and ten built for lease to Library specifications. Then, in 1957, the Legislature increased the tax-rate limitation from ten cents to thirty cents. Also created for the first time that year was an Accumulated Capital Outlay Fund -- a special fund included within the library tax rate but specifically earmarked for construction. Although actual rates increased only gradually over the years, adequate financing was thus assured, and it now became possible to make realistic plans for expansion -- of collections, of buildings, and of services. In addition, once the Library proved that, given adequate resources, it could really produce, the problem of cities withdrawing from the system virtually came to an end.

The 1960s saw the construction of new Regional Headquarters libraries and many new community libraries, both in the unincorporated areas and in the cities. Formal and legal recognition of its status as a system operation in 1964 qualified the Library for federal funds under the Library Services and Construction Act and for California State grants under the Public Library Services Act. Construction and collection development were the focus for these funds in the early years, but in 1968 the first service-to-the-underserved grant (the "Way Out" Project) set the trend for many of the projects which were to follow, as grantsmanship became an increasingly important funding source in the years to come.

In the 1970s the Library faced two retrenchments: that of 1971-72, caused by a Legislative tax freeze (Senate Bill 90) and that of 1978-79, caused by the Jarvis Initiative (Proposition 13). The latter was the most potentially devastating challenge to funding up to that time because it cut the legs out from underneath the Library's major source of support, the property tax. Budgets were cut seriously, and service reductions were made but a Library which had survived earthquakes, depression, war, and sudden urbanization found that it could also survive a taxpayers' revolt by aggressively seeking alternate funding. The California Public Library Fund; the County Special District Augmentation Fund; the County Public Library Fund; participation in a multi- jurisdictional system (South State Cooperative); fundraisers and gifts from cities, corporations, individuals and Friends of the Library; grantsmanship; savings through contracting, volunteerism and productivity enhancement -- these formed a new, broad basis of support which freed the Library from total dependence upon the property tax.

Images:

  • Chairman Raymond Darby of the Board of Supervisors cuts the ribbon at the dedication of the Lennox Library (1948). This was the first County-owned library building since Lancaster twenty-four years before.


Diamond Jubilee:
Seventy Five Years of Public Service
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