This year, the city of San Diego was obliged to trim 3.8 million dollars from the library budget. 3.8 million dollars. To put that in perspective, that’s roughly 760,000 used books off of Amazon. That’s one library, right there.
The Ocean Beach library seemed particularly vulnerable to these cuts, given its proximity to the larger but less centrally located Point Loma Library. Throughout the past few years of budget cuts and closing scares, the Ocean Beach community has spoken quite loudly and clearly against the closing of the small Ocean Beach branch on the corner of Santa Monica and Sunset Cliffs.
“If it is ever closed, it would be a disaster for our community,” says George Murphy, co-president of the Friends of the Ocean Beach Library, “We must be ever vigilant.”
So far, the city is listening, and none of the 37 branches have been closed. The alternative has been a cut in staff and in hours.
The new hours will take affect on March 20th of this year. Basically, almost all the branch libraries will be closed Sundays and Mondays, with the exception of Scripps Ranch, La Jolla, and Point Loma Libraries, which will be open from 1-5 on Sundays. Central Library, the heart of the system, will be closed only on Saturdays.
Elias Hazou, the acting manager of the Ocean Library, claims that the shorter hours will not seriously damage the staff pocketbooks. Employees have to be at the library an hour before it opens, and also close it, so even though the library will only be open 36 hours a week, employees can still make full-time wages.
“Full-time will still get their forty hours, half-time will still get their twenty,” Hazou explains, “It is the people working hourly, the people low on the totem pole, who will be affected.”
The cuts also mean that the library is facing a hiring freeze. Therefore Hazou was selected as acting manager of the OB Library when the previous manager was moved to Malcolm X Library.
“I am a librarian because of necessity,” says Hazou quietly, speaking in an appropriately hushed library voice. A patron approaches and asks how to us the copy machine, and Hazou obligingly helps her. All around us is the pleasant, sleepy late-afternoon library buzz. Keys click, pages turn, a child speaks too loudly and is shushed.
This is Hazou’s domain, soon to be someone else’s. Hazou is only acting as manager until the permanent manager is assigned.
“It’s already dedicated to one person, moving up from Central,” whispers Hazou, “He was a librarian there, but never managed a library, so he must be trained first.”
The new manager is almost finished with his training, and will arrive at the OB library on March 8th, two weeks before the official change in hours.
He has learned a lot about managing a library during his years working for the library system. He is not just tending the desk and checking out books all day. To manage the library Hazou must not only run the physical library, but also update and upkeep the library collection, research new books, and manage the staff.
“The main thing though, is to serve the public,” says Hazou, “we are in the business of information.”
He gestures to the computer area. Every seat is occupied, and people are sitting at surrounding tables waiting. Hazou notes that this is the only venue for some people to access the Internet, or even computers. He is quick, however, to also gesture towards the rows of books, occupied by a few absorbed readers, and the more populated children’s section.
“Books,” he says, “will always be here. High-tech is great, but it should be coupled with a human element.”
And here, Hazou has hit upon the crucial element, the reason why people like George Murphy and the Friends of the OB Library are fighting so hard to keep the libraries. With the 3.8 million dollars that was cut from the budget, I could pay for my own Internet and buy hundreds of thousands of books on Amazon, but where would that get me? Alone in a house filled with towering stacks of books, more likely to crush than to educate. Without the human element of the library – the combination of resources, knowledge, and community – all that information is just words.
“Why is the library so important to our community?” Murphy asks, “One only needs to go in and sit for a while and watch the numbers of people who use it for a variety of reasons. It is ‘center’ to our community.”