Little Tokyo Library Feels Impact of Budget Cuts


Matthew Nguyen, a messenger clerk for the Little Tokyo Branch Library, re-shelves books in the stacks. The library will now open only five days a week due to budget cuts. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Intern


Chiharo Mizuhara stared at the closed metal gate in front of the doors to the Little Tokyo Branch Library.

It was Monday, and she had intended to pick up a few cooking recipes to try at home.

But according to the new hours listed on the building’s doors, the library was closed.

“This is very inconvenient,” said the Diamond Bar resident, who works in Little Tokyo. “Nobody told me it closed on Mondays.”

In an attempt to deal with the city’s budget crisis, all Los Angeles public libraries will now be closed on Sundays and Mondays, a move that went into effect three days ago.

In addition to the new five-day schedule, some branch libraries, like the one in Little Tokyo, also face reduced hours.

“In a way, it’s a relief,” said Hitoshi Ohta, senior librarian. “We couldn’t sustain the six-day service.”

Ohta added that the library staff was reduced from 15 to 10, as three people left for an early retirement and two were laid off.

“It was really tough, but it’s everywhere,” he said of the personnel cutbacks.

Nevertheless, Ohta said the change in library hours would greatly affect patrons.

“Closing on Mondays will be bad for the community – we get lots of people on Mondays,” he said. “And since the Central Library will be closed, they’ll have nowhere to go.”

Located on South Los Angeles Street, the Little Tokyo Branch Library serves hundreds of people a day, Ohta said.

The library offers a variety of programs, many of which are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, such as a weekly children’s story time, computer programs for adults and teen summer programs.

Catering to local teenagers, many who come from the nearby housing complexes, the teen programs allow participants to try new skills and experience the local culture, with workshops on the Los Angeles Opera and improvisation techniques.

“We wish to have more teens, but don’t have resonance with teenagers in this community,” said Genevieve Hsu, young adult librarian, who added that the programs are still well attended. “But I like to work with them‑it’s an enjoyable experience.”

Based on its location, the library focuses on the Japanese American and Japanese community and thus tailors its selection to its audience by offering the latest Japanese magazines and books, in addition to a wide variety of DVDs and CDs, Ohta said.

He added that about half of the patrons are of Japanese descent.

“Lots of Japanese speaking people come on Saturdays,” he said, noting that many patrons come from areas outside of Los Angeles. “They check out magazines after going shopping.”

This specialization also relates to the library’s decreasing book budget.

“We just have to focus on something very popular that people will want to read, instead of general materials,” Ohta said, adding that the library refers patrons to the Central Library for more mainstream resources.

To assist the library financially, the Friends of the Little Tokyo Branch Library association holds numerous fundraisers throughout the year, including their annual Quilt Show and Book Fair during Nisei Week.

“We need to pass on more things to the younger generation, like reading,” said Irene Murashige, vice president of the organization. “People want to hand down culture and keep culture and here (at the library), we have a lot of Japanese magazines and books.”

The Friends association also hosts author luncheons, during which Asian American writers come to speak at bento lunches, as well as a book and magazine sale on the fourth Saturday of each month.

While these events are intended to raise funds, they also help to establish the library’s place in the community, said Edwin Barker, president of the Friends association.

“I joined Friends because I was really impressed with this library,” he said. “If you come on a Saturday, there are a lot of Japanese from Japan who come and bring their children to check out Japanese books, there’s moms with kids and older Japanese men who can’t speak English. There’s a whole range of people who come to this library.”