Library Board Votes to Keep North Branch and Hire Community Engagement Librarian
Evanston's library board passed a 2012 budget that had north-siders jumping for joy and other residents complaining of unequal neighborhood services.
The Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees passed a 2012 budget with funding to both keep the North Branch library open at current service levels and create a new community engagement librarian position.
The approved budget was one of three options under consideration. The first of the two remaining scenarios, dubbed the “base budget,” continued North Branch funding but did not provide for the new community engagement position, while the second alternative closed the North Branch and hired the new librarian.
Throughout the meeting, several board members voiced strong opposition to funding the North Branch.
Board President Sharron Arceneaux, who voted against the motion, said that it was unfair that residents on Evanston’s south and west sides would have to pay property taxes for a branch library to which they have little or no access.
“I am a property tax payer and the people in my community are, and we are not receiving the same services as on the north side,” Arceneaux said. “My children and my neighbors’ children would not be able to get up here and tell everyone how wonderful it was to skip to the library…In my neighborhood, it’s mostly minority children that need the most help… We are putting money into one of the wealthiest areas in the town. We’re not putting that same money into the west side of Evanston.”
The approved 2012 budget will raise the library’s portion of property taxes on a $300,000 Evanston home an estimated $6.67, resulting in a $122.96 total library share. That is $1.90 higher than if just the North Branch were funded and $5.72 higher than if just the new librarian were hired.
Arceneaux also argued that if the services of a community engagement librarian were deemed sufficient to serve her neighborhood, they should be sufficient for the north side, as well.
Board member Benjamin Schapiro said he agreed that continued funding of the North Branch did not “reflect the spirit of Evanston”, but also argued that branch libraries were antiquated, calling them “probably the least effective way of distributing library services.”
“Branches as a method of getting services to a community were a great idea 20 years ago when the technology was different, when the demographics were different, when it was a different world,” Schapiro said. “You cannot move a branch around the community. We cannot afford to build enough branches to serve our communities… Placing a small facility in a school or a bookmobile in front of a school once a week means those children will have access to library services.”
However, North Branch supporters argued that community engagement is strongest in designated library spaces and that ridding Evanston of a longtime institution would serve neither the community’s nor the library board’s goals.
“I disagree that we increase community engagement and services by closing off community engagement and services to any one part of the community,” said board member Gail Bush. “This is not the time to tinker with what’s not broken.”
Though Bush eventually voted in favor of the motion, she also argued that hiring a community engagement librarian while the library has no permanent director could be a waste of money, since the future director might have different ideas of how to spend the cash on outreach methods that would not require creating a new position. The library board recently hired Donna Dziedzic as interim library director while they search nationwide for a permanent replacement.
Other board members argued over whether it would be best to scrap both the North Branch and the new librarian position and instead use that funding to start smaller, experimental branch libraries around Evanston, ones similar to the Evanston Public Library Friends’ Mighty Twig storefront location.
At last month’s meeting, the library board was presented with a strategic plan outline created from the findings of a half-year study commissioned by the board to better understand community needs and opinions. The study, which lists the library board’s top two goals as creating equal library access throughout Evanston and expanding library outreach services, was created to serve as a guide for the board’s future actions and efforts.