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Evanston Says Farewell To South Branch Library

After 95 years, Evanston residents must say goodbye to a piece of Evanston history.

Evanston residents and South Branch Library staff members commemorated the branch's closing Thursday with refreshments, storytelling, Irish music, crafts for children and a slide show.  The branch will close permanently on Saturday after being open since 1917.  

At the open house, residents and staff members exchanged their favorite memories about the library.  “For 34 years I worked at the North Branch and on occasion I filled in here and worked,” said Muriel Schwartz, a previous library branch assistant.  “Priscilla and I did the puppet shows and she created the sets.”

Residents and staff members said they are sad to say goodbye to the branch.  “We moved here so I could walk to the library,” said Evanston resident Barbara Lewis.  “It’s the only reason we moved here.”

Like Lewis, Alberto Ayala favors the South Branch over other libraries. Though Ayala lives in Chicago, he chooses to consistently use the South Branch.  “It is a sad thing to see it go,” he said.  “The worst part about it is that they’re not putting a new one in the area.  This part of town needs a library.” 

The Evanston Public Library Board decided they did not have enough funds in their budget to maintain the South Branch in the 2011 fiscal year.  The .

“The South Branch has been open for 95 years, through the Great Depression. And don’t you think that if it got through the Depression it could get through the recession?” Lewis said. 

But the Evanston Public Library Friends is doing everything in their power to maintain a library presence in the southern part of Evanston. EPLF published a letter to South Branch patrons explaining its plan of action once the library officially closes. 

According to the letter, written by President Ellen Newcomer, the group is  opening a new EPLF Reading-Internet Room at 900 Chicago Ave. that will open in mid-March. The reading-Internet room be staffed by volunteers and will have a large collection of donated books, magazines, and other reading materials. 

“This was my library, my children’s library, and later when I started working for the library it’s where I worked,” Library Branch Assistant Gail Mitchell said.  “It’s a sad part of the town to lose because part of Evanston’s history is gone.”

Kit Sullivan February 25, 2011 at 05:34 PM
The argument that the library cannot help fund an outpost in southeast Evanston because it cannot fund outposts elsewhere in Evanston is absurd. If children were hungry all over Evanston and a group of people in southeast Evanston offered to feed children in their neighborhood, would the city say "no, that's not fair!"? That is just what they have done - it is the children's minds that need this food, and they will suffer. Shame on the board.
Lisa G. February 25, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Well, if kids were starving all over Evanston and people in southeast Evanston expected people in the rest of Evanston to buy to food only for the kids in southeast Evanston, yes, I think that would be wrong. Why should we have taxpayer funded branches in some parts of the City and leave other parts without services? Because those ones have been around longer? Silly reason. The branches served their purpose but it is time to re-evaluate how library services are provided all over town.
Kevin O'Connor February 26, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Lisa you are absolutely right as far as Library services not being equally distributed. Why don't you direct your question to Mayor Tisdahl, former Mayor Morton, the senior aldermen on the current Council and past aldermen. The Library tax levy was illegally under their control for decades, they are totally responsible for the lack of equitable Library services in Evanston. Why is there no Library on the West Side? Why was no TIF established until 2007 after 5 other TIFS were already established in less blighted areas of Evanston? Why is there money to give away on facade improvement (42k), why is our City Manager being paid 175k, why is there 333k in the City Manager's fund under Contingencies with no oversight, why do we owe 225 million in police & fire pensions and of course who is responsible for Evanston being bankrupt? Connect the dots. See the big picture. Nothing happens in a vacumn. Don't do what the City Council politicians, some members of the Library Board and some alleged journalists do which is: How can we play the race, class and neighborhood card so we can maintain political control? We are all Evanstonians. If it wasn't for the EPLF group, I can assure you that there would be no reevaluation of neighborhood services, just the Main Library intentionally underfunded. Over 5k citizens have reached out with money, time and talent to show the City Council how important neighborhood services are to Evanston. The response was no money and no South Branch.
Lisa G. February 26, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Kevin, With all due respect, where was the EPLF group for the last decade? The branches have been on the City's chopping block every budget cycle for years. If those 5 k people really cared about providing services to all the neighborhoods in Evanston and not just about preserving services in their own neighborhoods, they'd have been working for years to see a West Branch. Or they'd have been raising money to maintain the South Branch and make it ADA accessible. But they were complacent, so how expecting the money to be made available every year. Yes, the City Council has done some seriously questionable things when it comes to managing the finances of the City, but this isn't one of them. Sure, I'm sorry to see the South Branch go, it was nice to have. But times change and so do priorities. If the library had undertaken a "visioning process" years ago, it might not have happened. The handwriting was on the wall years ago that library funding was getting tighter, the Internet was changing how people interact with libraries and that certain populations continued to be underserved. It's time for the EPLF to do some serious thinking about who they represent and what their goals are. What do people value about the branches and can those needs be served in other ways? It's time to be proactive and stop reacting only at every budget cycle.
Kevin O'Connor February 26, 2011 at 03:47 AM
Thanks for your reply. I will attempt to answer you personally since I do not represent EPLF, though I am a member and have done a great deal of volunteer work for EPLF. EPLF was not formed until about a little over a year ago. There are volunteers in the group that fought every previous attempt during the budgetary cycle to close the branches. Your assumption that members of EPLF just cared about preserving services in their neighborhood is not factual. I've been told that donors and volunteers came from all across Evanston to EPLF. Outreach work has been done at the South Branch, on the West Side, Ridgeville Park District and the North Branch by EPLF. Money was raised to keep the branches open and to provide creative outreach services. As for ADA accessible, it is truly shameful that the City Council never prioritized money to do that needed improvement. The EPLF is opening an outpost at 900 Chicago Ave. that is ADA compliant. This Council and previous Councils did not provide the full money from the tax levy, nor the leadership from their elected positions to have underserved populations served and the Library fully funded to be able to meet the challenges of changing times. You can not separate the mismangement of the City's finances from the Library, which was run as a department of the City. I would ask & challenge you, and all other Evanston taxpaying citizens to ask: What have I done to help? Join EPLF and make a difference or maintain the status quo of failure.
cheryl chamberlain February 26, 2011 at 04:57 AM
As one of those who are actively providing outreach through EPLF and working to get the 900 Chicago location off the ground, I can answer several of Lisa's comments. 1. Where was I 10 years ago? 10 years ago I lived in Indiana and had never even been to Evanston. This is true of many that I have the pleasure of working next to. 2. The comment about working to preserve services in our own neighborhood is absurd for the simple fact that you have no idea where the folks on the front line, who participate day in and day out, in addition to our full-time jobs and our families, actually live. If your comment held merit, then you would not see the beehive of activity centered around the SB location -- because the majority of us live around North Branch. 3. Bringing services to the West Side: you may not be aware of the number of book nooks and programs we have already started, and continue to service, throughout West and Southwest Evanston. All of these services, our campaigns to save both branches, plus trying to provide services to the SB area, and the current planning for expanded services -- all of these day to day things have been accomplished in the last 12 months by a small group of people with families and jobs. More importantly, nothing would have been accomplished without the support of thousands of Evanstonians. We have accomplished many many things in a short period of time, and will continue to build on it, because it is the right thing to do.
Kit Sullivan February 26, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Ten years ago my children and I were speaking at City Council about saving the branches. A lot of good that did. And this year we handed over a check with the caveat that it be used to fund the South Branch AND a West Branch. So, Lisa, most of us do care about the rest of the city. What have you done lately? Before you start sniping, I'd like to know if you are in the same trench!
Lisa G. February 26, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I'm delighted that the EPLF have put in the time, money and energy to create branches and outposts around the City. It makes complete sense to me that people who care about these things should do just that. But asking taxpayers to provide the funds for services that aren't being distributed equitably and which are actually available elsewhere (e.g. Main Library) doesn't make sense to me, particularly in times like these when people are losing their jobs. If the EPLF want to create an independent non-profit organization to provide spaces all around the City where people can have access to newspapers, books, storytimes, Internet, I support that. But don't ask for me to ask the City Council to shift limited budget funds towards it. Evanston has a history of creating non-profit organizations to fill needs around the community. They do fundraising, they write grants, they have volunteers but they don't expect to be supported by the taxpayers. The reality is that lots and lots of people in Evanston are hurting for money. We've watched our property taxes go up and up and up and our home values go down. Some of us have lost our jobs. We can't move because there is now a housing glut but we can't stay because we can't afford to live here. Is there mismanagement in the City? Yes. Do I think closing the branches is an example of it - no. We can agree to differ. Just because I'm not working on this with you doesn't mean I don't care about the community as much as you do.
Kevin O'Connor February 26, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Lisa, of course we can agree to disagree. Also, in reading all the posts here I don't think anyone said that you don't care about the community as much as anyone else. It's not just property taxes going up and home values going down( which I strongly agree with you about), it's also about the increase in fees for water, electric rates, gas taxes, grass and leaf bag sticker fees, etc etc.. To put it even simpler Lisa, it's not about paying taxes it's about paying more & more taxes and getting less & less services for it. I know you want to say that the City's mismanagement (fiscal & otherwise) is not about closing the branches, but remember that the City had control of the Library's tax levy. The last FY budget for the EPL was roughly 3.7 million dollars. The City has 333k sitting unused in a contingency fund with our City Manager who is paid 175k per year and the EDC just sent to the Council for approval approx. 42k in give away money to "private" businesses. There is plenty of money, however our Council, like previous Councils have their priorities screwed up. If you think our tax dollars should go to "privatizing profit" & "socializing risk" as they have through TIFs, sales tax rebates, property tax breaks for the few (PILOT), so be it. I guess how I can understand that unless one really follows politics, one will not understand the interconnected cause & effect of the bad choices made by our elected politicians. They are responsible & have been unaccountable!
cheryl chamberlain February 27, 2011 at 12:22 AM
Just to clarify a few points: * Evanston Public Library Friends IS an independent 501c3 organization. * We are in no way funded by dollars generated through ANY source other than donations and fundraisers. * The City Council no longer has any control over how the Library Board spends the money that is collected by the City ON THEIR BEHALF. Library funding IS a separate line item on your tax bill. * There is a heavily documented correlation between access to all library services and literacy, levels of violence, unemployment, economic development, property values, etc. We can agree to differ because that is what friends and neighbors do. However, what I didn't realize until I got involved is: a) how vital these branches are to the folks near them, especially the South Branch (which services a HUGE population of unemployed, homeless and severely handicapped individuals.) b) true poverty exists in our little city, c) the level of mismanagement of taxpayer funds by the city, and d) the urgent need for services in West and SW Evanston. We all care about our community. Sometimes though, it is hard to understand the passion or drive of various groups or causes. A year ago I felt much like you, simply because I hadn't really peeled back the layers, so to speak. When I started peeling back those layers, I felt forced to dig further because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. If we all try, in our own way, to make things better, we can accomplish much..
Lisa G. February 27, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Kevin, the comment I was referring to was "So, Lisa, most of us do care about the rest of the city. What have you done lately?" Perhaps I was being oversensitive, but this did sound like a criticism of my commitment to the community. We all serve in our own ways. Cheryl, can you give me some numbers on the "HUGE" population served by the South Branch? I'm not sure what your point about "true poverty exists in our little city" means in the context of the library branches. "There is a heavily documented correlation between access to all library services and literacy, levels of violence, unemployment, economic development, property values, etc." If this is the case, we need to have branches on the SOUTH WEST and WEST sides of Evanston immediately. If a library branch will stop people shooting each other near the high school, I'm all for it. If it will increase economic development, then by all means put a branch in the Dempster-Dodge mall. Gosh, I never realized that the North and South branch libraries were what were keeping S. Chicago Avenue and Central St. so prosperous. Access to library services prevents unemployment? Tell that to the 40 people laid off by the City last year. I'm glad there's now a 501(c)3 that wants to provide library services around the City.
Kevin O'Connor February 27, 2011 at 04:47 PM
My comment about "most of us do care about the rest of the city" was in direct response to your criticism in the sentence you wrote: "If those 5k really cared about....not just preserving their services in their own neighborhoods, they'd have been working for years to see a West Side Branch." Since you were criticizing EPLF collectively and individually, I thought my responses were thoughtful, measured and appropiate. What is curious and puzzling is your complete pass of this and previous City Councils for their responsibility in the dismal state of Evanston. Your concern over the 40 people laid off is heartfelt I'm sure, but your lack of understanding of the complete inability for some of the unemployed to even apply for a job without a computer is stunning. I'm sorry Lisa, but it now appears that every reply of yours is just a picking apart of the interim replys. There is such a disconnect between your lack of understanding of the facts presented by those that are deeply involved in these issues, that one would have to question your motives or background at this point. It appears that you have not changed any of your perceptions about these inter-related issues, which is your right. After all of the negative energy that taxpaying citizens have faced from the City Council & some of the Mayoral political appointees to the Library Board, it's time to turn my energy to positive and productive energy ie: helping create the EPLF Outpost @ 900 Chicago Ave.. Come & enjoy! Ciao
Kit Sullivan February 27, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Lisa, you obviously want this information spoon fed to you and cannot be bothered to look anything up for yourself. Kudos to Kevin who has much more patience than I.

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