As the City Council continues to weigh the benefits of our public libraries against the cost of keeping them open each year, we hope that they will continue to factor in the intangible as well as the tangible benefits which the libraries bring to our neighborhoods, our children, our seniors and our community, as well as the bottom line

Local economies today are in rapid transition, moving from bases of manufacturing and service industries to information and idea industries, and Evanston is no exception.

Given these changes, forward-thinking communities are reassessing their assets in order to succeed in the new and next economies. Increasingly, strategies of visionary cities are building on local strengths, mixing residential, commercial and cultural activities to create vibrant, high quality-of-life cities.

The branch libraries are part of what makes Evanston such a livable, pedestrian-friendly city. The Urban Library Council that neighborhood libraries support different needs from those of a main branch by acting as senior centers and community centers, offering job placement support, and computer and internet access points, after-school study spaces, literacy support for summer reading for students – 40 percent of whom participate at the branch locations.

Children need multiple opportunities to learn and grow – at home, in school and in the community, according to the Harvard Family Research Project. Not surprisingly, there is a direct correlation between book circulation numbers of local libraries and fourth-grade reading scores on state level tests. What will happen when we close the branch libraries that currently serve more than 3,500 nearby students?Green and Growing

Not only is branch usage up by as much as 30 percent, but when surveyed, more than 90 percent of the people polled who use the neighborhood libraries walk or ride bikes to their local libraries. This reduces our carbon footprint and eliminates transportation costs for the thousands of residents who use them.

This is in keeping with the recently adopted Evanston Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 13 percent by 2012. Closing neighborhood libraries seems counterproductive for a city that lauds itself for sustainability and voted unanimously to reduce emissions.Dollars and Sense

Numerous state studies estimate the libraries return on investment to the community between $4 and $9 for every dollar invested in the library. Imagine what a library could do for the underserved neighborhoods in Evanston.

Libraries and other facilities such as the post office anchor retail areas and bring foot traffic throughout the day, an important aspect of urban vitality according to Jane Jacob’s urban planning bible, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

An independent study of the Central Street corridor by Lakota Group only two years ago found that the North Branch library was integral to the commerce and vitality of Central Street. In a recent state survey, roughly 30 percent of respondents indicated that when visiting the public library, they are likely to stop at nearby businesses where they would probably not have shopped otherwise. The average amount spent was $24.93. If we extrapolate that data using North Branch Library’s 75,000 annual patron visits, the amount spent on Central Street alone is more than $560,000 annually. That’s a lot of potentially lost sales tax revenue.

So, now that we have some idea about the numbers, what can we do?

Currently a grassroots organization called branchLove (www.branchLove.org) is working to find a long-term sustainable solution to the perennial problem and annual Branch Library budget-cut discussion. In less than one week, the group has gotten more than $24,000 in pledges, and best-selling authors Audrey Niffinegger and Scott Turow have supported efforts to keep the libraries open.

Depending upon the City Council’s vote, branchLove will hope to work with the Library Board Task Force for Sustainable Funding in order to investigate all possible solutions. Some of these might include institutional fundraising and public/private partnerships, individual fundraising, taking a detailed look into a West Library, South Library, and North Library; alternative delivery models; special service assessments, conversion and legal issues.

It will not be easy, and anyone who is interested in participating is invited to join the effort to sustain, enhance and grow the library system in Evanston. We recognize the strength and importance of bringing library services to all of Evanston and hope we are successful in our attempt. Having the endorsement of the City Council will be a good first step. Join us at www.branchLove.org or by calling 847-867-4826.

–The members of the branchLove steering committee are Emily Guthrie, Jim Hughes, Lori Keenan, Debby Kisor, Larry Lundy, Marcia Mahoney, Eb Moran, Ellen Newcomer, Mary Rosinski, Patti Sherry Crews, Mary Lou Smith, Jeff Smith, Trish Stieglitz, Michael Tannen and Evan Westerfield