Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saving SoCal's Libraries

THIS blog is dedicated, of course, to West Coast culture, from classical music to science fiction, and I tend to stay away from politics here. But an issue crucial to the survival and access to West Coast culture is breaking now: the closing of libraries and especially school libraries in Southern California. This has been brought about by the recession and bad political judgement.

Pasadena Unified and LAUSD have plans to fire all of their school librarians, with the closing of those libraries likely. It feels like they are fulfilling the very East Coast stereotype of Southern California as shallow and anti-intellectual that I have spent much of my time in LA combatting. Who needs Bradbury's "firemen" from Fahrenheit 451, torching books, when locals decide to dismantle access to books and ideas on the basis of "fiscal responsibility"?

It's coming at a time when the economic climate has caused use of libraries nationwide to surge, and when the need for students to be information literate had made school librarians more crucial than ever.

HERE is the Op-Ed piece from today's LA Times. The piece concentrates on the way the Internet -- that great blessing and curse -- has made the work of school libraries more complicated and more important. Information flows so freely that young people can't separate the good from the bad. As school librarian Sara Scribner writes:

And to most kids, whatever they read on the Internet is "all good." I've been told, quite emphatically, that the Apollo moonwalk never happened, the Holocaust was a hoax and George W. Bush orchestrated 9/11 -- all based on text, photos or videos found online.

I should add here that Sara, a former LATimes and LA Weekly music writer who reviewed major records by Beck, Wilco and Sleater-Kinney before beginning  a new career as a teacher a decade ago, is also my wife. If she, along with these other school librarians who've been pink-slipped, loses her job, your favorite culture blog will be broadcasting from Portland or Austin, or not at all. (Because the LA Times decided that I was expendable, the two of us and our young son depend on her health insurance.)

Politically, we're seeing a combination of short-sightedness by the school districts and a lack of courage by Gov. Schwarzennegger to properly fund the schools and the rest of the state's infrastructure with tiny taxes on the wealthy. Gov. Reagan had the political guts to raise taxes for the sake of building the state; this supposed macho man has shown nothing but cowardice and confusion in dealing with the financial crisis.

So if you care about West Coast culture, or about The Misread City, please tell your friends in Pasadena and LA to make some noise. Interested parties can check out this site dedicated to saving Pasadena's schools through a Yes vote on Measure CC... To be -- I hope -- continued.

Addendum: Sara and others were on NPR's To the Point with Warren Olney, for a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation about these issues and more -- here is a link.


精采 said...


majorsongs said...

Mike Sigman here, former LA Weekly publisher. Very important piece. I've been speaking to college classes about whether 'Google is making us stupid' to college kids, and would like to email/speak to Sara. What's best way to reach her?

Scott Timberg said...

Hi Mike, I"m sure she'd be happy to hear from you... Write to me at and I'll give you her email...

Robert Niles said...

I can't urge Pasadena-area voters strongly enough to support Measure CC when they receive their ballot in the mail next month. The improvement in this district over the past years has been phenomenal, and it sickens me that California's dysfunctional property-tax system threatens that progress.

At least with Measure CC, we can raise some local money to help offset the worst of the state-mandated cuts.

And if you really care about improving the quality of public education in Pasadena, please volunteer for the campaign at too! Thank you.

Kate Coe said...

If Pasadena Unified hadn't jumped on every lame edu-fad possible, middle class parents wouldn't have left the system in droves.

Remember when David Baltimore, then CalTech president) offered to develop a science middle and high school with PUSD? PUSD turned him down, as it would have been "elitist". So, CalTech faculty send their kids to Poly, Mayfield, Flintridge, etc. Or live in San Marino or La Canada.

Librarians all over the country have this same complaint--Googlecentric research.

Scott Timberg said...

As for PUSD -- they have certainly not covered themselves with glory here.

I don't hold them single-handedly responsible for the white flight from the public schools you describe, but they absolutely had a role in it.

Unknown said...

Regarding Kate Coe's comment:

Understand Kate's anger at the district, but the only people who will be punished if these cuts take place will be the students. My school would be totally destroyed--1/3 of the staff got pink-slipped. These are not consultants, they are people who go in every day and try to make a difference in kids' lives.

And librarians all over the country have the same complaint because it is a HUGE problem. Does that mean that it shouldn't be discussed if it's not getting fixed?