Alderman Coleen Burrus told residents at a 9th Ward meeting Thursday that Evanston is in the dark ages in the way it delivers library services and needs to close the branch libraries.

“We need a strong flagship main library,” Burrus told the generally supportive group of about a dozen people meeting at the Ridgeville Park District fieldhouse on South Boulevard.

“Only a select few people benefit from the services at the branches,” she said. “I don’t see it as a way to bring the community together.”

“It’s financially irresponsible to spend as much money as we are for a small number of people,” Burrus added. “I believe strongly in education, but not to have fiefdoms for a small select group of people.”

“If we’re talking about community, we should have computers in all the community centers, and work with people like the Ridgeville District as well,” she said.

With public access computers at the recreation centers and people able to access more library resources from their home computers, “that would be really delivering services to all of Evanston, and we’re not doing that now,” she added.

“It’s a ruse to put in a shelf of library books” at the Robert Crown Center, Burrus said of recent outreach efforts by the Evanston Public Library Friends group and the Library Board. “It’s a slap in the face to our part of the city” to have a token presence in some parts of town while having full branch libraries in others.

And she said the existing South Branch library should really be called the “East Branch” because of its location on Chicago Avenue, just a few blocks from the lake.

“I support strong funding for libraries, but not the branches the way they are,” Burrus said.

One woman at the session challenged the idea of making more use of computers instead of library branches — saying it was important for people to be able to hold hard-copy books in their hands.

But a man sitting in the back of the room responded by holding up the Kindle wireless book reader he’d been gazing at during the meeting and suggesting it worked just fine as a substitute for traditional books.

Related story

The view from the north branch library 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. the few?

    the few are actually the many, alderman Burris.

    Those who use the libraries in Evanston actually pay taxes and actually count. We should respect them and give them their due. Libraries are a community based service. Perhaps the city council should encourage Evanston residents to take advantage of library services instead of simply cutting them off from city services and deciding that educated citizens do not need library services.

    What do citizens need?

    Perhaps we should charge by volume for trash pickup. Those who more frequently use the sanitation services should pay more. Perhaps we should charge for police calls or fire calls. Those who use them most frequently should pay more. Perhaps those who have trees planted on their parkways should pay more for them. Those who use more water already pay extra. Perhaps all city services should be on a for fee basis….but then why are we paying RE taxes? Why do we pay the City Manager and those in charge of city services? Wouldn’t it be easier to contract individually for such services?

  2. Thank God for Alderman

    Thank God for Alderman Burrus! Could she be the only sensible politician in Evanston!

  3. The few are actually the few

    Perhaps we should charge by volume for trash pickup. Those who more frequently use the sanitation services should pay more

    Yes. Good idea.  I live in a condo, we don’t use city waste removal.

     Perhaps we should charge for police calls or fire calls. Those who use them most frequently should pay more.

    No, this is a bad idea.  We don’t want to discourage abused women or old people having chest pain from calling 911, and very few people actually call the police or fire because they WANT to.  People who abuse these services should be charged.


    Perhaps those who have trees planted on their parkways should pay more for them.

    Yes.  I am tired of subsidizing the elms.


     Why do we pay the City Manager and those in charge of city services? Wouldn’t it be easier to contract individually for such services? 

    No, it wouldn’t.  By combining with 65000 other residents, instead of contracting individually for certain services, we get a better rate.  Economy of scale would be an argument against the branch libraries  –  we should have one, nice , big main library.

     Another argument for municipal services is to prevent "free riders".  If I pay for police, fire, or sewage , my neighbor still benefits – even if he wants to be a parasite and not pay for these services.  You really can’t make that argument  for branch libraries.  If you want to buy books from Borders or Amazon, or set up your own private little branch library on Central St. with your own money,  you can easily prevent people like me from using them without paying.




  4. Another Take

    The usage and budget data reported by Evanston Public Library (EPL) does not support several of the conclusions attributed to Alderman Coleen Burrus in this article

    The branches do not benefit just a few select people.  They are actually the fastest growing part of the EPL system.

    Evanston Public Library circulation has grown 14% since the start of the recession (FY 2007-2010). 46% of that circulation growth was in the branches.  75% of the entire EPL system visit growth over the same timeframe was in the branches.  The branches represent 9.5% of the total EPL library budget…but they account for over half the growth.  The branches are truly the growing part of the library.

    The branches deliver a unique service that does not shift to the Main when the branches are closed.

    Branch hours were cut 25% in March, 2010.  Over the next six months branch circulation dropped 17%.  Yet, in the same time frame there was no corresponding increase at the Main.  In fact circulation at the Main dropped.  The data supports the hypothesis that when branch access is reduced patronage declines across the system.

    Branches are not financially irresponsible. In 2010 the branches used 9.5% of the library budget to deliver 17% of the total circulation and 25% of the total visits.  

    A key to use of the library is convenient access.

    At a Library Board meeting in September, 2008 a key finding of a survey commissioned by library staff …a survey in which over 900 EPL patrons were interviewed….was presented.  The minutes of the meeting report:

    “Planning Process Update:  Joey Rodger discussed the highlights from the analysis of the user survey. “Lack of time was the number one response to a question about the barriers people find to library use. This should lead the Library to focus on the things that can be done to make services more convenient. The final report is expected in four to six weeks.”

    Clearly branches are providing that access.

    1. The data supports the hypothesis ?

      Jim , you say that :

      "Branch hours were cut 25% in March, 2010. Over the next six months branch circulation dropped 17%. Yet, in the same time frame there was no corresponding increase at the Main. In fact circulation at the Main dropped. The data supports the hypothesis that when branch access is reduced patronage declines across the system."

      This 17% drop that you mention…is that over the corresponding period from March-September 2009, or are you saying that circulation dropped 17% between March 2010 and September 2010?  The same question applies for the "fact that circulation at the Main dropped".

      If you are just telling us that library circulation went down in the summer…the SUMMER…and that this is due to the closing of the branch libraries, then I am not impressed.



    2. Equity on a budget

      The real issue is "how do we provide the best service to the most people" and the branch system clearly does not meet these needs.

      I’m delighted that branch library use is up–I wonder how much greater those numbers would be if we had a wi-max enabled, RV-style bookmobile with computers and librarians on-hand.  The access to ALL Evanstonians would be much improved )and more economical) than any branch library system ever could.

      You’re right–cutting off access to the branches does not automatically funnel those patrons to the main library.  But the vast majority of Evanstonian who can’t make their way to the main library have no way of getting to the branch libraries, either.  Far better to bring those services to them, and simply putting a few books on shelves at the various community centers is not enough of a service model for those citizens that could really benefit from library resouces (esp. librarians and computer assistance.)

    3. Exactly what do circulation numbers show?

       Ok, so more people are checking out books from the branches. But does that mean they are checking out books that belong to that branch or that those books were sent to the branch from the main library. If it is the latter, then why do we need a dedicated building? Wouldn’t a bookmobile serve the same purpose – to move books from the main library to where people want to check them out?

      Or what about having multiple library mini branches housed in community centers or other locations strategically situated around the City where people could go to pick up books sent from the main library?

      My point is that no one has done an evaluation of what users actually want from branch libraries or considered any alternatives. Do they need to be staffed by librarians with master’s degrees? Do we need to find a way to provide more computer access to low income individuals? Do we need to provide homework help for students after school? Is this better done in a library branch or in the schools?  Could school libraries be open for longer hours to compensate for the loss of a branch library?

      It’s time to take a more nuanced view of this issue. Circulation numbers don’t tell the whole story.

  5. Close the branches

    Alderperson Burrus thoughts on closing the City’s Library Branches make sense in these trouble financial times. I live near the South Branch and go bye it several times a day. I am familiar with some who go in and out of this facility.  Other than the residents from Albany care and a few  local drug pushers hanging out, I rarely see many local residents using this branch; however,  I do know of a few local residents who use the South Branch: These residents have Master degrees and high paying jobs; accordingly, they want to avoid expenses of buying the lastest journal publications and paying for on-line e-mail services…

    It is my thought that our Library system should require users to present picture identification with a local address and such information goes into a data base. Such information/data would provide a clearer picture of the Evanston resident users of library services and help EPD in catching a few of the thugs who come to Evanston for access to our local services and residents.  Evanston citizens gave over 21 million dollars to build the downtown Library and this library facility can and should accommodate all Evanston residents’ needs:

    close the library branches…

  6. What books are checked out at EPL–Main and Branches

      A question I don’t think was asked or data provided is do we know what the distribution of books checked out at EACH Main and branche libraries.  E.g. maybe by category such as:

    Science, history, self-help, political, economic, literature [such as Twain, Hawthorne, Dickinson], etc. vrs. pop literature [such as romance novels, Jackie Collins].

    If citizens have a better idea of what the branches are supplying, they may be better able to determine the cost benefit.

    Also what is percent of patrons that are K-12 who go there independently—not taken along when parents visit for only their own purpose ?  Parents I know say their kids go to EPL-Main or Wilmette if they live on the northside.


  7. Never ends

    as many commented before me here, where is the nuanced look at usage? 

    simply looking at the quoted circulation numbers tells us nothing.  we need to combine metrics of range and quantity of titles available (at the libraries itself or through library loan), range and frequency of titles checked out for all three locations, and put that up against the list of customers, frequency of visits and their address for proximity to visited branch/main.

    all this data should be captured and availble by using library card itself that you present when checking out, and would give a very clear view of how actual use stands up against perception of use, at least in terms of the BOOKS.  the other services available at the libraries would need their own seperate metrics by which to judge them.

    why is no one doing this?


  8. Students need for branch books—obviously none

    Several posts have asked about students need for the branches, how the librarians tutor the students as stated and how much the students use the branches as a study hall. The lack of response from the schools, branch administration or parents with knowledge about this has been deafening.
    The conclusion must be:
    1.       Branches don’t have books that the students need for research or school reading lists.
    2.       Schools have the materials for reading assignments and research that students need.
    3.       Branch librarians don’t help/tutor students with their homework or research [other than possibly pointing to location of books].
    4.       Schools have sufficient study hall time for students and students don’t go to the branches as a ‘study hall.’
    5.       Branches don’t have or want to release the book areas [science, history, math, etc.]  students or anyone else check out. Conclusion must be, as is evident by looking at the shelves, the branches don’t have anything close to ‘academic’ books anyone needs, and that most of the books checked out are romance [and such] fiction.
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