Friday, March 26, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): If you visited a San Diego Public Library this week, you may have had a little surprise. Locked doors. Library hours were reduced this week because of cuts to the city budget. KPBS Reporter Sharon Heilbrunn has the story.
SHARON HEILBRUNN (KPBS REPORTER): San Diego resident Tina Reynoso usually spends time at the College Rolando branch library every Tuesday morning. But, starting this week she was forced to change her plans.
TINA REYNOSO (San Diego Resident): I do a workout on Tuesdays and come to the library on Tuesday mornings, but now the libraries are going to be closed on Tuesday mornings until 12:30. So I have to rearrange my life and my schedule.
HEILBRUNN: Reynoso is talking about the new hours at the San Diego city libraries – which went into affect this week. In December the San Diego Public Library budget was cut by $3.6 million. Because of these cutbacks most branch libraries have cut their hours from 41 to 36 per week and are now closed on Mondays. The Downtown Central Library has reduced its hours by eight per week and is now closed on Saturdays.
DEBORAH BARROW (San Diego Public Library Director): Well our city libraries are experiencing the most use ever and at the same time, the biggest challenge with funding. And so we’re at this point in time, reducing our library hours.
HEILBRUNN: It’s a sign of the times, said City Council President Ben Hueso. Maintenance services to parks and beaches have also been cut.
BEN HUESO (San Diego City Council President): Our budget took a huge impact – reduction in revenue - $185 million reduction from a previous year that already had an $80 million reduction. And a previous year that also had a reduction. So we’re compounding reductions on top of reductions and at some point as you cutting positions and as you’re budget – it gets to a point where you can no longer continue to offer the same level of services.
HEILBRUNN: The new schedule keeps the Central Library open when the branch libraries are closed.
HUESO: It might be a little less convenient but uh, it’s also inconvenient to go to a bookstore and have to spend a lot of money and buy a new book. And we have to make sure that at least we can provide you with a book when you need it at some place in the city.
HEILBRUNN: Last year there was talk of closing some libraries, but the idea was quickly dismissed.
BARROW: We were facing some very serious cuts at that time as well, and there was a very clear indication from the public that that was not acceptable. You know this is interesting. It is a cyclical thing. We’ve had some really hard times in the past and the good news is that we’ve also recovered. This is very painful. San Diego is my hometown. I’m back here and just at the time when we have such serious budget issues. But we’re working on it and I certainly hope that it will get better in the future. It’s a very good service and I think the public knows that and wants to have their libraries open.
HEILBRUNN: There could be more cuts in the future, according to Hueso.
HUESO: We don’t know where the end is. We’re simply trying to present a budget that will minimize the cuts to our community and will maximize the amount of services that we can provide. I mean this is affecting all levels of the services we provide to the city. And it’s getting to dangerously low levels where there’s some functions that we provide that people’s lives depend on.
REYNOSO: The library is important. Culture is important. Books are important. But people’s health, people’s lives – that is the absolute bottom line – don’t you think. So if we had to cut the library to three days a week, I would deal with it, if it meant that we wouldn’t have to cut out fire and police.
HEILBRUNN: On the day we were here at the Rolando Library, plenty of people arrived only to find that the library was closed and the new hours were in effect. For more information or to check the new hours at a library near you visit wwww.sandiegolibrary.org. We want to know if these cutbacks have affected you. Log onto kpbs.org/sdweek and leave us a comment. For KPBS, I’m Sharon Heilbrunn.