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Diamond Jubilee: Seventy Five Years of Public Service

VII. A Strategic Future

Table of Contents

Los Angeles County Public Library has gone through four major organizational changes (in 1927, 1957, 1976, 1987) and one name change ("Free Library" was changed to "Public Library" in 1932). The area served has remained essentially the same over the years (between 3000 and 3500 square miles since 1924) and the number of municipalities served has grown in proportion to the number of incorporations (twenty-four of the forty-four cities in 1937, forty-eight of the eighty-four today). The number of people served by the Library, however, has undergone an exponential increase over the years (from about one hundred thousand at the beginning to over 2.9 million today). As its service area changed from a largely rural, agricultural territory to an urban, metropolitan one; as it was faced with financial crises, natural disasters and the local effects of national and global events, the Library learned it must adapt in order to survive as an affective service institution. It also learned the importance of "planning ahead."

Early crises in Library history were met with equanimity but the first serious problem to be addressed through long-range planning was the postwar crisis caused by industrial expansion and the population boom. The dimensions of the emerging problem were recognized as early as 1944, in a study made with the cooperation of the County Regional Planning Commission. Solutions were outlined in the Annual Report for 1947 and implemented over the next two decades: a building program, improvement in financial support, bookmobile service, and regionalization. A second milestone was passed in 1977. Since 1974, there had been an official call for staff input into budget planning through a formalized process. However, it was the Planning Institute of 1977 -- entitled "Strategy for the Future" -- which brought professional staff together for the first time in an organized effort to plan for the future. The message during all these postwar years was this: the Library must be responsive to social change.

It was in the 1980s that the Library realized the advantages of being "proactive" rather than "reactive" to change. Goals and timetables had been a part of County vocabulary on a Departmental level for some time but it was in 1983 that Plan-of-Service Goals first became part of the annual planning process for individual libraries, and, in 1986, when managers began framing formal personal performance goals. "Strategic Planning," started in 1987, carried the anticipation of needs a step further: it envisioned a future first, then developed strategies necessary to achieve that future.

Three-quarters of a century ago, the Los Angeles County Public Library began as a single jurisdictional system with a single outlet. Today, it has the largest number of libraries under a single public library jurisdiction in the United States (ninety-one, plus bookmobiles and institutional outlets), which range from Lancaster in the north to Lomita in the south and from Claremont in the east to Avalon (on Santa Catalina Island) in the west. It is number one among public libraries in circulation and among the top five in the size of its collection. In addition, reference statistics have nearly doubled during the past five years and now almost equal the circulation count -- an indication of the increasing importance played by labor-intensive information activities relative to circulation service. Even as it expands into nontraditional formats, however, it is clear that the core of the County Library will remain its book services and that, as part of the educational establishment, its role in fighting illiteracy will thus remain a vital one. It is also clear that the Library's heightened visibility in recent years -- to the public and to decision makers -- will continue to play an increasingly important role in its operational support and in its overall effectiveness as a modern, reliable service institution.


County Librarian Linda Crismond joins Supervisor Pete Schabarum of the First District (right) in cutting the ribbon at the brand new Library Headquarters (1983). The future of the Los Angeles County Public Library will no doubt be a technological one, filled with bibliographic utilities, acquisitions systems, automated circulation, on-line catalogs, networks, databases -- perhaps even "intelligent" library cards and interactive remote access. More important than the technology, however, will be the human element: the people served and the people who provide that service. As it was in the beginning, the Library's goal will be to bring quality library service to its customers.

Images:

  • County Librarian Linda Crismond joins Supervisor Pete Schabarum of the First District (right) in cutting the ribbon at the brand new Library Headquarters (1983).

Diamond Jubilee:
Seventy Five Years of Public Service
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