It is just about Act IV in the nearly Shakespearean drama that is being played out among the library board, the City Council, supporters of a library fund, supporters of the branch libraries and those who oppose or favor them: time to tie up loose ends and make sure all ends well.
Economic problems have come to town, smashing us all in a big way, moving the libraries – particularly the branches – into the crosshairs of budget troubleshooters.
As stewards of library resources, the library board took a bold action it believed to be in the best interest of library services: Following state authority, the board approved a library fund for handling revenues and expenses for the library. It would be a discrete fund, separate from the City’s General Fund, with projected expenses determined by the library board and unable to be decreased by the City Manager or the City Council in the City’s budgeting process.
The back story of the drama is one that is underscores Evanston’s community activism, its commitment to enrichment and intellectual activities and its unique status of being city and small town – all overlaid on the current economic crisis that shows signs of pressing on across 2011.
The small-town feel of Evanston is engendered by neighborhoods, anchored by community centers, business districts, parks or neighborhood groups: Howard Street, Main Street, Dempster/Chicago, downtown, Central Street, Crown Park Neighbors, the Backlot, Dewey-Darrow Neighbors, Southeast Evanston Association, Brummel Park Neighbors.
The urban feel comes from our population of 75,000 people with a diversity of languages and cultures, our 16 public K-8 schools and large high school and our downtown that is enlivened by shoppers, diners, moviegoers and others from the north, south and west.
Most areas of Evanston have a “place” that helps define the neighborhood and offers a space for community meetings and gatherings. On the west and southwest sides there are Family Focus and Fleetwood-Jourdain, Robert Crown Center and the Levy Center. For southeast and northwest Evanston, the place is the branch library.
Those who love the branch libraries – and there are many of us – would like to see the services and the anchorage they provide in the northwest and southeast spread to other parts of town.
The library board’s action is intended enhance library services and outreach and add to its collections.
Rather than taking that action as a tossing of the gauntlet in a challenge to battle, we hope the City will see the measure as a protective one on the part of the library board. As a home-rule community, Evanston is free to make its own rules of governance in most areas. Where home-rule appears to collide with state statute, there are standards to gauge the relative authority of each.
There are indications that Council intends to work with the library board rather than simply oppose it. Most reservations that have been expressed about the library board’s action have been couched in the context of concern for increasing taxes, not in terms of wishing to curtail library services.
As residents, we need to hunker down, resist the winds of rhetoric blowing in many directions, envision the kind of City (and the kind or library services) we want and trust the process.
The curtain is going up on budget season for fiscal year 2011. As we await the resolution of the Library Muddle, we also await its title. Will it be “One City, One Library” or “Many Neighborhoods, Many Branches”? Either way, it’s one Evanston.