Asserting its independence even from its Friends, the Library Board on Feb. 23 decided not to fund an outpost or satellite in the south part of town but to proceed with the closure of the South Branch. The small, seemingly cramped space at 949 Chicago Ave. was “home” to many school children, mentally and physically disabled youth and adults, young families and senior citizens, who said they found there friendly service, free Internet use, story times and camaraderie. There has been a south branch library in the Main/Chicago area for 75 years; it closed on Feb. 26.

The Evanston Public Library Friends (EPLF), a grassroots organization formed last year after budget cuts threatened closure of both the South and North branch libraries, had offered to lease space near the present South Branch location and sub-lease it to the Library to use as a satellite or outpost until the Library Board had decided on next year’s budget and the future of neighborhood services, including the two branches.

Figures provided by Library administrator Paul Gottschalk offered some “funding scenarios” under which the Board would have access to the nearly $60,000 it would cost to operate the South Branch through December, including a payment of $1 to EPLF for rent.

The vote was 5-2 against funding the South Branch, with Susan Newman and Gail Bush voting in favor of a motion to fund the South Branch, and Sharon Arceneaux, Mildred Harris, Lynette Murphy, Susan Stone and board president Christopher Stewart voting against the motion. The reasons given varied: that the decision would be rushed, that there should not be a South Branch since there is not a West Branch, and that unforeseen costs could arise.

Ms. Harris thanked the Friends for their help but said she would not support funding the South Branch at present. “I feel as if we’re being rushed to meet a deadline by the end of the month. I thought we could look at other locations, such as Dempster/Dodge.”

Ms. Stone said she had not changed her mind from the previous meeting at which she said she would support only a West Side branch.”I’m very adamant that if we open a new branch it not be in the same location. Right now I’m looking at a long, long list of needs for the Main Library. … One of the things I think we have to consider is the staff of the [Main Branch] are stretched to the limit.”

Ms. Arceneaux said, “I live in the Fifth Ward, and when I moved into the Fifth Ward, they closed the [West Branch] library, and we had to live with that. … I see North Shore kinds of plums thrown over there just to keep people quiet. The people in the Fifth Ward don’t have money to raise for a library. We’re tired of not having. … In my opinion [the location of the branches] has to be even or [there should be] none at all.”

Ms. Murphy said she thought the decision was premature because there was no overall plan in place.

Ms. Bush responded that the Library board’s 2011 budget – which would essentially determine the next year’s funding and plan – would have to be settled before the plan was in place. She argued strongly in favor of funding the South Branch outpost, saying that continuity of services was necessary. “I don’t think the way you get strong neighborhood services is by closing neighborhood services.”

Ms. Newman, who also drafted a plan to use a different configuraton of funds to keep the South Branch outpost/satellite open, said, “I feel it’s so important to be able to continue the services, but also to experiment with services. … I will be very saddened if it doesn’t happen. We’re missing an incredible opportunity. We’ve grown afraid instead of looking forward.”

Dr. Stewart said he felt the Library board should not expend funds to keep library services in the South Branch outpost because “there are variables in this proposal that we cannot see. … There are staffing, operations and contingency costs. … Can we afford it?” Noting that the Library board was still undertaking a planning process for all library services, he said, “We owe the community deliberation. “

The Future of the Books

“There is a huge concern,” said Ms. Newman, “about what will happen to all the books in the South Branch.”

Librarian Mary Johns said many of the materials have already been relocated to the North Branch or the Main Library. “We are offering material to others, including not-for-profit agencies [EPL Friends included] and schools,” she said. Other materials will be placed “in storage for summer reading.” Materials that will not have a home in Evanston will be sent to Better World Books, a company the Library uses frequently, that resells the materials and remits a quarterly check to the Library, Ms. Johns said.