In one of the most visible signs of the city's financial problems, all Los Angeles municipal libraries will soon be forced to stay closed on Sundays, officials said Wednesday.

City Librarian Martin Gomez said he sees no other options after making budget cuts that include the loss of 200 workers. Next year, he warned, if the budget doesn't improve he could have to further reduce operations to five days a week.

"None of us want to do this," Councilman Tom LaBonge said. "I would like to see a way to at least keep the Central Library open (Sundays), but this seems to be the most creative way to remain open during critical hours during the week."

Currently, the downtown Central Library and most regional libraries are open Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., while the smaller branch libraries are already closed on Sundays.

In the South Bay, the San Pedro Library is the only one that keeps Sunday hours - branch libraries in Wilmington, Harbor City/Harbor Gateway and Westchester already are closed on Sundays.

Monthly programs offered by the Friends of San Pedro Library have already been shifted to Saturdays in preparation of the change, said the group's President William Schermerhorn.

The Library Commission is expected to decide today whether to approve the additional Sunday closures, effective April 11. The panel will also consider reducing hours on Mondays and Wednesdays.

"If the Library Commission approves my recommendation, we will be down to six days a week," Gomez said. "If there are more reductions, we will be open five days a week."

Closing the downtown Central Library on Sundays will save the department $90,000 a day and $5 million over the course of a year, Gomez said.

The department has an annual budget of $134 million, with $75 million of it guaranteed by the City Charter.

The closures will reverse an effort over the past two decades to expand the hours at 73 library branches to make them more accessible, particularly to young people.

"This is one of the hardest things we are doing," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.

Gomez said Sundays are the slowest day of the week in the library system, which receives 17 million visitors a year and has more than 18 million books and other materials in circulation a year.

But patron Tony Asselta, 46, said when he has used the computers on Sundays, the library was crowded.

"It's making it difficult for everyone," he said. "It's getting harder and harder for people who need to use computers. A lot of people are in here looking for jobs. You'd think they'd want people to use it more."

Gomez said the libraries also are popular during the week with students and young people, with more than 82,000 a day using the facilities for school work.

The city's $7.01 billion budget is facing a $212 million shortfall this year and a projected $485 million deficit next year.

Several council members offered suggestions on ways to raise money, from a special library card where people would volunteer to pay for a card to a parcel tax and asking private foundations for funds.

Gomez said all the ideas are under review.

rick.orlov@dailynews.com