Pasadena Residents Take a Stand for Books

Article excerpt

LIBRARIES seem to be one of the most imperiled institutions in a time of recession, but it is also when they inspire extraordinary shows of support.

Consider the case of Flora, Ill., whose residents recently raised $300,000 in 20 months to build a new library at a time of double-digit unemployment.

Or the grade-schoolers in San Diego, who trooped before the city council to plea for a reprieve from funding cuts, with one 11-year-old concluding tremulously: "Please, please don't close the libaries. I don't want to watch more television."

Last week, Pasadena, Calif., joined the list of communities taking an unusual stand for books. Voters approved a special tax to support their library system - and by a Michener-sized margin. Aided by a grass-roots campaign that had youngsters selling lemonade to raise money and a black church holding a mock funeral to raise awareness, supporters defied California's traditional antipathy toward taxes and garnered nearly 80 percent of the vote.

Now some think that the tax could inspire efforts to stem reductions in public services across the country - and perhaps become a model on how to do so.

"So many communities are in the same bind we are in," says Pasadena author Sidney Kirkpatrick. "This shows that something can be done."

Libraries could use heroics of some kind. While demand for their services is rising, funding has dropped from Los Angeles to Long Island, N.Y. The result is cuts in staff, fewer new tomes on shelves, shortened hours, and even doors closed altogether - something that didn't even happen during the Great Depression.

One-third of Detroit's libraries are now open only part time. Branches in New Orleans are closed Fridays. In Massachusetts, 20 libraries have shut down in six years. Oklahoma City idled its bookmobile.

"The news is not good," says Marilyn Miller, American Library Association president.

In recession-bound California, more than half the school libraries have closed in the past decade. Nine were shuttered in Los Angeles County last year; 11 more will close by year's end.

PASADENA was one of those threatened. Its imposing Spanish Mediterranean main facility faced a cut in services and closure of all eight branches Jan. …