On Sept. 21, the Evanston Library Board approved a budget of approximately $4.9 million for fiscal year 2012, up an estimated 6% over last year. The budget would fund Library services at their current- levels, including the North Branch library on Central Street; it would provide about $130,000 toward reserves for operating and capital expenses, necessary to for the Library to transition to the new governance-and-funding model; and it would provide $85,100 to hire a “community engagement librarian” whose responsibilities would focus on increased and equitable library services throughout Evanston. The budget passed by a 5-3 vote, with one trustee abstaining.
This is the first time the Library Board has set its own budget. Last year the Board decided it would take control of its own budget and direct the City to levy property taxes for its budget, which the Board maintains it has authority to do under State law. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, however, that City Council has not agreed that the Library Board has that authority, and he added that the Library budget still needs to be approved by City Council.
Trustees Diane Allen, Gail Bush, Margaret Lurie, Susan Newman and Michael Tannen voted in favor of the budget. Trustees Sharon Arceneaux, Ben Schapiro, and Sergio de los Reyes voted no.
Ms. Arceneaux opposed providing funding for the North Branch Library, saying that branch serves one of the wealthiest parts of town, and that the same funding is not going into the west side of Evanston.
Mr. Shapiro argued that branch libraries were an antiquated and ineffective way of distributing library services. He said placing a small facility in a school or a bookmobile in front of a school once a week would provide more children with access to library services.
Supporters of the North Branch argued that community engagement is strongest in designated library spaces and that closing the North Branch would not serve the community’s or the Library Board’s goals. Margaret Lurie said the branch generates traffic and is crucial to businesses along Central Street.
While Ms. Bush voted in favor of the budget, she suggested that the money allocated for a community engagement librarian be used instead to support the Twig (the privately run facility opened by the Evanston Public Library Friends after the South Branch closed) and perhaps a similar effort on the City’s west side.
Library staff estimated that the budget will raise the Library’s portion of property taxes on a $300,000 Evanston home by $6.67, and that the total property taxes attributable to the Library would be $122.96.
The next meeting of the Library Board is scheduled for Oct. 19.