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The Impact of Shuttering Pasadena’s Central Library Examined by Council

Published on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 | 6:01 am

The closure of the City’s Central Library has drastically limited public access to information and technology for locals without home access to computers, according to a report presented to the City Council on Monday.

The library was closed to the general public in 2021 until a seismic retrofit can be completed.

Single-use computer reservations decreased by 86.6%, from 128,515 in Fiscal Year  2019 to just 17,165 in Fiscal Year  2023 at local libraries.

This decline reflects the reduced availability of computers.

The City Council received a project update on the community and economic impacts on the continued closure of the Central Library.

The library had a dedicated Internet Commons with over 70 computers, while other branches offer only two to six computers each.

“The Central Library served as a safe space, especially for those experiencing homelessness, offering a temperature-controlled, safe space. It also hosted a full-time Care Navigator from Pasadena Public Health Department, providing essential social services—a resource not replicated at the library branches,” according to a City staff report.

Last year, the City Council approved a contract to move forward and begin the renovation process. The contract includes preparation of environmental documentation, final construction drawings and cost estimates for construction.

Last month, the City Council voted 6-2 to prepare documents for placing a $195 million general obligation bond on the November ballot to retrofit the Pasadena Public Library.

Designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt in 1924, Central Library was the first building completed in Pasadena’s historic Civic Center Plan. The library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Averaging 1,000 daily visitors, the library serves as an educational and community cornerstone for all to gather, learn, explore ideas, and connect with people and resources.

“The closure of the Central Library has significantly impacted overall access to library services in Pasadena, as evidenced by key metrics comparing Fiscal Year 2019, when all libraries were open, to Fiscal Year 2023, with the Central Library closed.”

According to the staff report, the Central Library is both the hub and the core of Pasadena’s library system.

The absence of the Central Library has led to marked declines in various aspects of library usage, highlighting its critical role in the Pasadena community.

For individuals facing isolation, the Central Library provided a place to connect, participate in programs, and escape harsh weather.

It offered quiet spaces for study or work, essential for those without such environments at home. The Central Library connected people to social services, assisted with job searches and resume creation, and supported educational and lifelong learning. It also fostered digital literacy, crucial for those tacking technological skills.

The staff report also highlights a drop in patrons and circulation at local libraries.

Overall visits to Pasadena’s libraries have fallen by 51.0%, from 803,274 in Fiscal Year  2019 before the pandemic, to 393,429 in Fiscal Year  2023, highlighting the Central Library’s role as a major draw for patrons.

Library circulation decreased by 45.8%, from 1,251,793 items in Fiscal Year 2019 to 679,068 items in Fiscal Year 2023, demonstrating its importance in borrowing and lending materials.

“The decline in technology access underscores the necessity of reopening the Central Library to ensure community members can connect to social services, find employment, combat isolation, and enhance their education and digital skills. Keeping it closed would disservice vulnerable community members, widen the digital divide, and hinder the community’s growth and empowerment,” according to the staff report.

The total number of in-person programs also decreased by 35.3%, from 2,462 in Fiscal Year 2019 to 1,594 in Fiscal Year 2023, and attendance at these programs dropped by 45.7%, from 55,260 attendees in Fiscal Year 2019 to 30,016 in Fiscal Year 2023.

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