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The long series of skirmishes between the City of Evanston and the Library Board may be nearing détente. At the Nov. 9 meeting of the Library Board, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz proposed a way to get past this year’s budget muddle and a way to transition to the library fund model. The Library Board accepted the proposal, and while City Council has not yet approved the budget for fiscal year 2012, none of the aldermen objected to the proposed budget amount at the Nov. 15 City Council meeting.

Under Mr. Bobkiewicz’s proposal the North Branch, which is located in a City-owned building, would remain open, and Council would take a series of steps to help the Board transition to a library-fund system of governance.

Mr. Bobkiewicz proposes that the City Council to “agree to an ordinance that would commit them to consider an ordinance no later than Feb. 27, 2012, that would amend the Evanston City Code” to transfer authority for the appointment of the Library director from the City Manager to the Library Board of Trustees and recognize the ability of that Board to set the Library’s annual budget and assess a levy for its operations beginning in FY2013.”

After that has been accomplished, according to Mr. Bobkiewicz’s proposal, he would ask the City Council to form a subcommittee composed of the City Manager, the Library director and members of the Library Board to “consider other operational issues to further transition to the new Library operations model,” reporting no later than May 31 to the Council and the full Library Board.

The proposal described five issues for the subcommittee to address: appropriate charges for City property and services to be charged by the City to the Library fund in fiscal year 2013 and beyond; appropriate cost allocation of previous Library capital improvement debt and creations of a Library Debt Service Fund; consideration of a temporary loan in 2013 from the City to the Library fund to cover shortfalls caused by the timing of property tax payments; consideration of transferring to the Library Fund from the City some amount for Library reserves; additional amendments to the City code that may be necessary for Library governance.

At the Nov. 15 City Council meeting, when aldermen discussed the proposal, Aldermen Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, did not appear to be happy with it.

“It seems the City Manager went to the Library Board and made nice, and now everybody’s getting everything they need,” Ald. Rainey said. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, saying she was not speaking for the City Manager, said, “We’ve already nickel-and-dimed the Library significantly.”

Donna Dziedzic, the interim Library Director, said in the last budget process the Library had its staff reduced by 20 percent.

Ald. Burrus said she had hoped the Library Board would be more creative in its approach to library services and offered as an example the Mighty Twig – a not-quite branch operated privately that opened after the South Branch closed. Library administrator Paul Gottschalk said the Twig is run by a not-for profit group that “has had very little contact with the Library.”

“The Library is in crisis,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said. “There are a muddled governance model, an interim director, new Board members and two years’ worth of struggles. It is my hope that this will be a year when we can settle things.” He said he agreed with Ald. Burrus that innovation “will be the key to moving forward. … My recommendation to Council is that we use this budget process to allow the Library to move forward.”

In October the Library Board approved a strategic plan, the key points of which include equal access to library services for all residents, neighborhood services and outreach, emphases on technology and children’s learning, and marketing library services.

The Library, the Friends and the Twig: A History

The Evanston Public Library operates the Main Library at 1703 Orrington Ave. and the North Branch Library at 2026 Central St. Until this spring, there had been a South Branch Library on Chicago Avenue near Main Street for decades.

When the City reduced funding for the Library two years ago and threatened to close both branches, an ad-hoc group called Evanston Public Library Friends gathered enough money to keep both branches open for six months. When the Library Board proposed closing the South Branch earlier this year, the Friends offered to help operate the branch through funds or volunteers or both, but the Library Board rejected the offer. EPL Friends then leased space in the 900 Chicago Ave. building to operate the Mighty Twig – library services but not quite a branch. The Friends group says it remains committed to offering library services throughout the community.

ELF, the Evanston Library Friends, which helped raise funds for the Evanston Public Library, no longer exists, although donations to the Library are welcomed.