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Margaret Donnellan Todd: In defense of the library system

Guest Commentary

Posted: August 7, 2010 4:23 p.m.
Updated: August 8, 2010 4:30 a.m.

The Signal’s recent editorial, “The city should take over the SCV’s libraries,” (Aug. 3) was wholly inaccurate.

All the revenue collected in the city of Santa Clarita has been used for library services in the city of Santa Clarita. In 2008-09, city residents contributed $6.3 million and received $6.1 million in service plus more than $400,000 in facility planning costs for the three Santa Clarita libraries.

    In fact, it has only been the last two years that the county has not subsidized library service in the city. Further, as The Signal failed to mention, every city served by the County Library receives all the property tax and special tax contributed by residents either in library service to the residents or held in reserve for future library enhancements.

For example, the reserve funds for Malibu are being used to fund the $4.8 million Malibu Library renovation, and West Hollywood’s $3.5-million reserve funds are assisting with the construction of the new West Hollywood Library. Now that Santa Clarita actually has excess property tax, the city would like the cities of Malibu, West Hollywood, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach to have those funds set aside in a reserve fund to be used for whatever library enhancements the community desires. 

It is absolutely untrue that property tax from the city of Santa Clarita is used to subsidize county library service in other cities. The county general fund contribution of $24.3 million (2008-09), not local property tax, was used to subsidize library service in many of our cities. Unlike the city of Santa Clarita, this year those cities have experienced reductions in library-service hours. Therefore, this is a separate issue that has no bearing on the provision of library services in the city of Santa Clarita. 

The editorial incorrectly infers that the residents of the city are subsidizing services to unincorporated areas. The editorial fails to mention that county unincorporated tax dollars pay for a full-service library in Castaic, a bookmobile in Stevenson Ranch and the new Acton-Agua Dulce library. Moreover, city residents are free to patronize any of the above libraries along with unincorporated residents. 

The editorial incorrectly asserts that if the city withdraws from the county library system, residents will have the same access to books and materials by joining the cooperative organization SCLC. As a director, I have been a member of a cooperative library system administrative council since 1989, and I can assure you that member participation by a small city library is very different from being part of the County of Los Angeles Public Library. 

Establishing a small, independent library system of three libraries in the 21st century may not be the best use of public dollars. Libraries are so much more than open hours. Children’s programming, adult language classes, a large collection of books and periodicals plus the depth, breadth and variety of services available in a larger public library system such as the County of Los Angeles Public Library provide the full range of benefits of 21st century library service to the community.

   Margaret Donnellan Todd is the Los Angeles County librarian. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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