At an Evanston Library Board meeting on Wednesday, January 20, 2010, the nine-person citizens board passed a resolution urging aldermen to consider all options to keep the branch libraries open, “Recognizing the economic, cultural, and educational value of the Evanston Public Library to the community, the Library Board supports the continued operations of the entire library system and opposes the proposed closure of the North and South Branch libraries.” The board then requested a Task Force be formed immediately to look for long-term sustainable funding for Evanston’s entire library system.
At a subsequent City Council meeting on Saturday, January 23, members of the Evanston City Council have asked the City Manager to propose an alternative budget plan that would keep the libraries open in some capacity while other funding opportunities are explored, although no decision is final until the budget passes.
“We are grateful for the Library Board’s support, and are encouraged by the Council’s consideration in allowing us more time to explore fundraising and other possibilities,” said Patti Crews, a member of www.branchLove.org, a recently formed group that opposes the closing of two of Evanston’s neighborhood libraries. “As Alderman Jean-Baptiste mentioned during his comments, we understand the importance of including an exploration of a branch in the west ward, and are enthusiastic about the prospects of working together within the community to ultimately make that a reality.”
Almost before it could be suggested at Saturday’s meeting, there was some question about the City’s proposed application of a Special Service Areas (SSA) assessment as a way to fund support for the branch libraries. One alderman suggested that the SSA paradigm be taken off the table for now. BranchLove agrees that SSAs are inappropriate for a public library.
“Public libraries benefit all of our citizens, and our community at large,” said Michael Tannen, a member of www.branchLove.org, and an attorney. “Libraries are not constructed primarily to enhance the value of the real estate surrounding them. The continued existence of a neighborhood library cannot be legally taxed by assessing their cost against people and businesses that happen to be near them.”
Among numerous other possible solutions including fundraising, grants, and public-private partnerships, the newly-formed Task Force is likely to explore the viability of formation of a library district similar to that of Wilmette or Skokie in an effort to find long-term economic sustainability for the entire system.
With much citizen comment, including thousands of petition signatures, emails and phone calls to the aldermen, Mayor and City Manager, the proposal to close the libraries has met with strong public opposition including numerous presentations during public comment at recent Council budget meetings. No decision is final until the Council votes to pass the budget, and library staff has been issued their pink slips, but for now the library branches are getting continued support. For more information, contact info@branchLove.org, or visit on the web at www.branchLove.org.