Like many in the community, we were disappointed by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s recent recommendation to shutter Evanston’s neighborhood libraries at the end of the current fiscal year. It is a surprising recommendation after months of public activism on the issue and, more recently, the overwhelming support for neighborhood library services manifested in the citizen workshops the city manager has pointed to as a barometer of the public’s will about budget priorities. Just a few days before the city manager recommended that the branch libraries be closed, the Library Board of Trustees – after much deliberation, discussion, and debate – unanimously passed a resolution adopting a budget that preserved neighborhood services for the coming, shortened fiscal year. Indeed, realizing the strong demand for services at the branch libraries, the Library Board voted to restore services at those locations to five days a week without reducing services at the Main Library.
The difference between the budget adopted by the Library Board and the city manager’s recommended budget is approximately $148,000. That is the amount of money that will determine if neighborhood libraries that have served Evanston for decades will close their doors.
In past years, members of the community have fought for fair funding for Evanston Public Library. In the current year, they have fought even harder. Some of these Evanstonians are members of the Evanston Public Library Friends. Some are not aligned with any group. All are concerned and engaged citizens who understand the vital contribution libraries – all libraries – make to a community. While members of the Library Board do not always agree with the numerous individuals and groups that have engaged the Board over the past several months, we respect differing views and listen. We believe that this kind of citizen activism should be applauded.
In early August, after months of hard work by the Board’s Task Force for Sustainable Funding, the Library Board voted to begin the process of securing a healthy, stable long-term future for Evanston Public Library. This decision to invoke the Library Fund model was the result of growing frustration by the Library Board and the community over years of inadequate funding for EPL. This model will align Evanston with the system of library governance and funding that is used by most of our neighboring communities and is supported by long standing Illinois library law.
The Library Board will lead the transitional process to this model over the next fourteen months. This process will be open, deliberate, and, most importantly, focused on long-range vision (including new ways of delivering neighborhood services) to build a better future for Evanston Public Library. With numerous public meetings held over the past two months, open and public discussion over EPL’s immediate and long-term needs, and finally, the recently adopted budget resolution, this process has already begun.
The Library Board adopted a budget that is reasonable given the current economic climate. We are proud of the hard work and difficult deliberation the Library Board undertook to arrive at this budget. We strongly believe that the Board is acting in the best interest of Evanston and is performing its duty to deliver the greatest amount of library services to the greatest number of citizens.
Dr. Stewart is president of the Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees, and Ms. Newman is vice president of the board; the views expresssed here are their own.