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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 motion passed 5-3, with one board member abstaining, at the board’s Wednesday night meeting and was the first library budget approved under the .

The approved budget was one of three options under consideration. The first of the two remaining scenarios, dubbed the “base budget,” continued 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’ .

, 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.

is scheduled to reconvene Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Main Branch.

mij September 22, 2011 at 11:23 PM
Acttually skipping to the main library might be good exercise. Think the best plan would be to focus on the main library and close the branches. Times i've been to South branch when it existed it was empty except for the people running it. Seems to me I read in Tribune recently that ebooks are taking over more and more with libraries allowing people to download books and with the online discounters of books.
Victor Boyd September 23, 2011 at 01:54 PM
The decision of the library board to no longer fund branches on the south and west sides of town is symptomatic of a bigger issue that is directly affecting the under served communities here in Evanston, and that is the make-up of these so-called "volunteer" boards. How can you expect fairness when these boards like the Ridgeville Park District and the Library Board DO NOT reflect the demographic make-up of the community? These boards control huge amounts of taxpayer money and not everyone has a say in how it is allocated, and in many neighborhoods like Ridgeville you have the minority making decisions that effect the majority and this is no more than taxation without representation. Think about it...we can find all the money needed to open police outposts and install high tech cameras in the under served areas of Evanston, but we can't keep a couple of library branches open.
Richard Schulte September 24, 2011 at 01:53 AM
I love books and I love to read, but I've only been to the Evanston Public Library twice in 28 years. Never checked a book out from the EPL, but I read all of the time. Most of my reading is on the internet, but I still like to hold a book or an actual newspaper in my hand. There's just something about real books and newspaper. With the times being what they are, and with the internet, it seems reasonable to ask how many of us still patronize the library? If the libraries in Evanston are still well utilized, then we should keep them. If not, then it will be sad, but we simply can't afford to pay for things that are obselete. I like horse carriages that I see in the Amish country and I'm glad I get to see them occassionally. That doesn't mean that I want the gov't to buy horse carriages just so all of us have the opportunity of seeing them. Are libraries obsolete these days? It's sad to say, but I think that the answer to that question is yes. Sorry, but unless you can show me the data on the library utilization, I have to say perhaps it's time to say that the libraries need to be privately funded. (I believe at one time they were-Andrew Carnegie was famous for funding the construction of libraries throughout the country.) The people who believe that we need to keep the libraries open can always reach into their pockets, instead of somebody else's pockets, and donate. I believe it's called putting your money where your mouth is.
Michele S. Hays September 24, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Folks, the arguments presented here are just plain spurious: if one area gets more library services than others, it follows logically that underserved areas are getting less. Isn't it the case that closing the North Branch adds upwards of $400,000 to the annual budget? Imagine how far we could make that money go to improve the collection downtown and to offer some kind of outreach service to all. I completely understand why the Central St. business owners want the library to stay where it is. My question to them: how can they justify a taxpayer-funded economic engine when neither the Howard St. nor the Church and Dodge business districts have one? I still don't understand why Northside neighbors and business owners didn't want a separate library district to fund their library - I don't object to the branch if I don't have to pay for it. I wonder if that option is still open to you, or if the business district could pay for the branch via an SSA.
mij October 01, 2011 at 02:24 AM
Great idea Michele. Let the business district and locals pay for the expenses of running the North Branch. Then the board can focus on the Main Librarary with the extra $400,000. Not sure if any of surrounding communities have branches. Skokie has a nice Main Library on Oakton.

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