Local libraries do not meet the needs of Long Beach’s diverse communities, audit finds

The Long Beach library system does not meet the needs of the city’s racially, socioeconomically and linguistically diverse communities, according to a city audit released Wednesday.

Despite the diversity of Long Beach residents, 97% of programs and 95% of materials are offered only in English, according to the audit. Additionally, the overdue fine structure disproportionately impacts low-income residents and keeps them from accessing materials when they are unable to pay their fines and subsequently have their accounts suspended.

“[Libraries] play a critical role in promoting literacy development, educational activities, digital skills, health promotion and many other learning opportunities,” City Auditor Laura Doud said in a statement.

Operating hours at the city’s 12 libraries do not align with most residents’ needs or preferences, the audit found, which limits access. Also, only two locations have adaptive technology for people with disabilities.

To correct the disparities, the audit outlines 29 recommendations, including the use of data to inform programming, increasing programming and materials in languages used in the surrounding community, utilizing partnerships to fill technological and inclusionary gaps, and using tailored outreach based on the neighborhood in which each library is located.

“I am pleased that management has agreed with all 29 detailed audit recommendations,” Doud said, noting that the department says additional funds will be needed for implementation.

Doud said there are steps that can be taken immediately with department’s existing resources. She urged management to be “proactive and innovative in seeking non-traditional solutions” as the city faces budgetary constraints brought on by the pandemic.

Glenda Williams, director of library services, said the audit was thorough and included a lot of community outreach as well as input from library staff, all of which was used to create the recommendations.

“It’s good to know what the community wants to see in their public libraries,” Williams said. “We’re always trying to have diversified programs and events for all people in our community. But we’ve got some work to do.”

Libraries are currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 but offer contactless pick-up services and online programming.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated with comments from Glenda Williams.

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Brandon Richardson is a business reporter, covering everything from real estate and healthcare to the airport and port to city hall and the economy. He is a Long Beach native who has been with the Business Journal since graduating from Long Beach City College in spring 2016 with an associate’s degree in journalism. He is an avid record collector and concert goer.