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DROPPING BRANCHES LIBRARY CLOSURES PUT STRESS ON VALLEY'S OPEN FACILITIES.

Byline: Erik N. Nelson Staff Writer

Long lines, excessive noise and surly patrons have become a fact of life for library users across the San Fernando Valley as Los Angeles undertakes the largest public library expansion in U.S. history.

With half of the Valley's 20 libraries shuttered for renovation or torn down for rebuilding - and three more scheduled to close next year - book- lovers have swamped the few remaining branches.

The crunch is causing long lines and even longer waits for J.K. Rowling's ``Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'' or for help finding biographies of late Beatle George Harrison.

For others, the shortage of libraries has led them on a cross-town trip to the nearest open branch.

And even though library officials have boosted staffing at the open branches, added bookmobile routes and promoted the automated checkout system, patrons are still ruffled.

``We knew that this would be disruptive and that people would be understandably concerned and upset,'' said city librarian Susan Kent. ``It is short-term pain, and it's going to be long-term gain.''

There are 21 Valley library projects outlined in a $270 million master plan by the city Board of Library Commissioners. To date, eight Valley projects have been finished and the rest are slated for completion by 2003.

Of the remaining 13, a dozen are being financed by Proposition DD, a $178 million bond measure approved in 1998 by city voters that calls for building, renovating or expanding 32 libraries citywide.

On Monday, officials broke ground for the new Sylmar branch building, and will do the same at 2:30 p.m. today for the Encino-Tarzana branch. Next Monday, officials will launch construction of new digs for the Sherman Oaks branch.

When the citywide project is complete in 2004, 90 percent of its buildings will be new or expanded, with a redone central library and 71 branch libraries either renovated, expanded, rebuilt or completely new.

That does little to soothe library patrons who must cope with mind- numbing waits, frazzled nerves and long drives to reach the Valley's few open branches.

Elizabeth Montoya, 29, has spent an hour traveling on two buses to reach the Panorama City branch library after her neighborhood's North Hollywood regional library closed in June.

``I think they should have some more people to help you with the computer,'' she said as she typed a resume draft on a library computer.

Officials have tried to ease the library shortage by increasing staffing at the open branches, library spokesman Peter Persic said.

By reassigning staffers from the closed libraries, supervisors have added 43 workers to the libraries in Panorama City, Studio City, Sunland and Van Nuys. They also added 58 staffers to libraries in Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Granada Hills, Northridge, Woodland Hills and Porter Ranch. Officials will reshuffle still more employees when the Chatsworth branch closes in January and the Northridge branch closes in February.

But the additional staffing has not made enough of an impact on already-busy libraries for some patrons.

``We've historically been a busy branch,'' said Catherine Ortiz, senior librarian in the Panorama City branch, which has seen business skyrocket since other area branches have closed.

In October 2000, Ortiz's branch checked out 25,551 materials, making it one of the busiest branches in the system. This October, that number jumped to 32,273.

But with the increase in service has come an increase in complaints from patrons who might be ``used to going to a cozier branch, where they're getting one-on-one service,'' Ortiz said.

To cope with the increase, she has added seven employees and extended operating hours to include Sunday, when libraries are typically closed. The Studio City branch also opened Sundays to lessen crowds.

But patrons at the crowded and noisy Platt branch on Victory Boulevard in Woodland Hills complain that they could use extra hours, too.

``I just wish they were open earlier in the day,'' said Jean Smith, 31, as she waited in her minivan before the 10 a.m. opening to pick up a Mark Buehner-illustrated picture book for her 3-year-old son, Andrew. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the branch doesn't open until noon.

The increase in bodies inhabiting the libraries has created some very un-librarylike conditions - children rustling papers and dropping pencils, people clacking at keyboards, and more people to hear the offending noises and complain about them.

``We've been getting lots of concerns that it's loud in the library,'' Ortiz said.

Like the Panorama City branch, Platt had its traffic problems before area libraries shut down. Each day, nearby Hale Middle School disgorges dozens of latchkey children whose parents pick them up from the library after work. After 3 p.m., the place sounds more like a carpeted cafeteria.

``I've had several people approach me in the last month and say, 'This is the noisiest library I've ever been to,''' said William Leventhal, who works behind the circulation counter.

Other means of coping with the facilities shortage include keeping outdoor book drops open even when the library is open, an emphasis on an automated self-checkout and greater use of bookmobiles.

On Oct. 15, the library system launched a third bookmobile route, parked from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Encino-Tarzana Community Center and Park on Mondays, North Hollywood Park and Recreation Center on Tuesdays, Sun Valley Park and Recreation Center on Wednesdays, Valley Plaza Park and Recreation Center on Thursdays, and at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park on Fridays.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

(color) Bob Goldrich, center, waits in line with a stack of overdue books at the Platt library in Woodland Hills, which is often packed with people due to the closure of other branches.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer

Box:

CITY LIBRARY CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS:

SOURCE: Los Angeles City Library

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 11, 2001
Words:967
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