Echo Park librarian checks out after more than 40 years of service

Come mid March, Judy Donovan, who heads the Edendale Branch Library in Echo Park, will be leaving her job and a more than 40-year-long career in the city’s libraries. Donovan is one of the approximately 2,400 city employees who are taking advantage of an early retirement incentive program designed to help cut costs. But it will also cause a brain drain of senior employees and leave those behind to shoulder the burden. When Donovan, 66, leaves after March 12, the Edendale branch, which she opened in 2004, on Sunset Boulevard will be left with three librarians. Niels Bartels, the adult librarian, will now also serve as manager of the branch with a total of 12 employees and a collection of 40,000 books. It’s not clear if the library staff will shrink further if city follows through on plan to layoff an additional 5,000 employees. Donovan said she understands the need to cut costs but worries that burden is falling heavily on libraries, parks and recreations and other services catering to young people. “If [our budget goes] down enough, and we dont have the hours and we don’t have the materials … then they maybe they will need more police because there will be no place for the kids to go.”

The South Pasadena resident and mother of five has focused primarily on young readers as she has worked in numerous locations, including the Echo Park, Malabar, Stevenson and Central libraries. She also served a stint as a librarian on-the-go in a book mobile, which would stop at Elysian Heights Elementary School. She has watched as card catalogs and reference books have been replaced by online databases. Many patrons now check out DVDs and videos instead of books and tap into the free wireless network instead of browsing magazines. Donovan concedes she feels a bit out of place in the digital era in which librarians now earn degrees in “information science” instead of “library science.” But the service is basically the same.

“People are still coming in … asking for information. That information is just presented in a different medium than it used to be,” Donovan said in her office. “I still think people are still going to want to come in for their book. It’s hard to curl up with a computer.”

Donovan and her fellow librarians have also take on additional duties and responsibilities that they were not trained for, including watching out for child predators, handling homeless patrons and patrolling the parking lot. Last year, after much effort, Donovan had the city install two gates near Sunset Boulevard entrance to seal off a disabled access ramp that became a place for people to sleep, urinate and relieve themselves when the library was closed (the gates are open during library hours). “It got pretty ripe their during the summer,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Donovan said she has enjoyed here years working in libraries, which are now more in demand as the economic downturn and high unemployment finds more people checking out materials instead of buying them. Libraries might find it difficult to meet that demand if budgets and staff keep getting cut, she said.

“Hopefully, on down the line when the libraries need … support, support us.”

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