Any remaining chance for an interim South Branch library died Wednesday evening, when the Evanston Library Board of Trustees voted down a motion to approve funding for that location by a 2-4 vote.
The sole agenda of the night’s “special meeting” was to consider allocations for neighborhood services in the 2011 fiscal year (March 1-Dec. 31), but when it came time to appropriate the $60,679 necessary to staff and rewire the proposed interim South Branch outpost, the proposition failed.
Board President Christopher Stewart said that the money simply isn’t there to justify maintaining a South Branch location, especially during a year in which the library will transition to a new funding model.
“We are now going to be responsible for setting [the library’s tax] levy and we have to be very prudent with that responsibility,” Stewart said. “We have told citizens of Evanston in our forums … that we will look at core, primary needs. … I do not feel that without a planning process that we have undertaken, that we should be making any short-term decisions … So, I cannot support funding of the South Outpost.”
Wednesday’s vote was the final blow in a several-month-long drama surrounding the South Branch library. In November, the board revealed that the branch would either close or move after a 76-year stay at its current location, and when the FY2011 budget passed in December, its neighborhood allocations were insufficient to fully support the North Branch, let alone fund a southern division.
But renewed hope sprung forth from the Jan. 19 trustee meeting, when the board voted to accept an undisclosed amount of funding donated by the Evanston Public Library Friends to support an interim branch for the 10-month FY2011. Under the proposed agreement, the Friends would rent a storefront at 900 Chicago Ave. to the library for $1 a year.
Even with a near-to-nothing rent, though, the board would be responsible for staffing and other operational costs at the interim location, and after all the numbers were crunched, the math just didn’t add up.
Possible funding scenarios laid forth at Wednesday’s meeting called for additional Friend’s fundraising efforts, delayed opening of the South Branch, reduction of services at both branch locations, and the use of book sale and endowment funds to help cover the near $96,000 the library needed to legitimize the proposal.
Board member Susan Stone said it would be irresponsible for the board to overspend while changing its funding model.
“I just don’t think in good conscience, if and when we levy a tax, we can say to the voters of Evanston, well we’re levying more taxes and we’re also spending more than we have,” Stone said. “I’d like to prioritize the use of money from the book sale, from the endowment, [to] go to the Main Library.”
Other trustees voted against the proposal in an attempt to establish geographic equity across Evanston.
“The people over in the 5th and 2nd Ward do not have [a branch library],” said board member Sharon Arceneaux, “and when I see neighborhood services [in those areas], those are kind of like the crumbs that are going to be thrown over there to kind of keep somebody quiet. And the people over in that area...don’t have friends to raise money specifically to keep a branch open over there.”
Gaily Bush, one of two “yea” votes, argued that the board has the responsibility to maintain continuity of service.
Susan Newman, the other board member to approve the measure, said the board had become afraid instead of looking forward, arguing that an interim branch location could allow the board to experiment with new kinds of programs.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to look at new ways of serving,” Newman said. “It can be like our laboratory for what the future will look like. And it’s rent free. It will be an opportunity to train staff in a new way of delivering [service] and train our community in new ways of getting books.”
Board member Mildred Harris said she was leery of the constant fundraising efforts that such experiments might require.
Throughout the meeting, several board members spoke on a possible return “option one,” a reference to a previously suggested plan to set up a south side storefront and book depository run by the Friends, with the goal of integrating library services into that location. The Friends have already rented the proposed interim space, hired an architect who drafted an interior design and at the Feb.16 board meeting, Friends members said construction would proceed with or without board approval.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Stewart said the FY2012 budget would likely be presented at the July or August board meeting
The next Evanston Library Board of Trustees meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on March 16.