How much should a college town like Evanston spend on its public library? The answer may depend on what towns you compare Evanston to.

How much should a college town like Evanston spend on its public library? The answer may depend on what towns you compare Evanston to.

The Library Board wants to impose its own tax levy to fund the library because it doesn’t like budget cuts made as the City Council tried to deal with the economic impact of the recession.

The board, and the library friends group also pushing for the tax levy, like to look at what other towns in the well-to-do northern suburbs of Chicago spend.

But other Evanstonians — including those who complain about the tax burden imposed by having a major tax-exempt university in town — might want to look elsewhere for a peer group — for example to the towns that are home to major universities.

A major university gives a town a big advantage in library services. It serves as the primary library resource for anyone with a campus connection and it can provide service to other town residents as well.

So Evanston Now put together two comparison groups using data from the latest survey reported by the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services, covering 2008 spending.

One group consists of the 10 suburban communities located within a 10 mile radius of Evanston. They are Des Plaines, Glencoe, Glenview, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Skokie and Wilmette. None is home to a major university.

The other consists of 10 towns other than Evanston that are home to Big 10 universities — Ann Arbor, Mich.; Bloomington, Ind.; Columbus, Ohio; East Lansing, Mich.; Iowa City, Iowa; Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis, Minn.; State College, Pa.; Urbana. Ill., and West Lafayette, Ind.

As the chart above shows, in 2008 Evanston spent $68 per capita on library operating expenses, while on average the other Big 10 towns spent $54 per capita and the 10 north suburban towns spent an average of $133 per capita.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Results should be adjusted for cost of living

    Most of the other Big 10 towns have a much lower cost of living.  Some of the other north suburbs have a somewhat higher cost of living.  Of course library staff must be paid more in Evanston than in Big 10 towns, and paid less in Evanston than in Glencoe.  To make use of this data one should consider how much of the library’s costs are location dependent.  

    1. Cost of living adjustment

      Most Big Ten towns do have a lower cost of living — but not nearly enough to close the gap between those towns and the level of library spending in north shore suburbs that aren’t home to a Big Ten university.

      Using cost of living index data published here, I calculate that the cost of living in metro Chicago is roughly 14 percent higher than the average cost of living in other Big Ten towns. Adjusting the average spending on libraries in other Big Ten towns by that cost of living factor would raise the spending from $54 to $62 per capita.

      That’s still less than Evanston’s spending and vastly less than what the other north shore communities spend.

  2. Public Libraries and Private Universities

    NU is a private not public university.

    An interesting comparison would be a Harvard or Yale or maybe Cornell.  I don’t know about Brown or similar schools [i.e. town size, economic homogenity, etc.].  Princeton town is probably much too small—however the university has by far the largest endowment per student.

    Most private universities won’t even let the public in the door and so they have a special purpose, academics, not places for the homeless to sleep, towns people to watch videos, listen to their rap music and get staff help.   There are indeed scholars and researcher not associated with NU who use the library for research and general public who use for serious reading.  In other private university cities, the former might be able to work out something with the university but the latter would not.NU thus supplements the broader community.

  3. How do the figures change if

    How do the figures change if you do not count Northwestern faculty and 
    students? Also, is it possible to compare the cost per tax paying property 
    owner, rather than per resident?
    1. Excluding Northwestern

      Of course that’s not to say Northwestern staff don’t use the public library too, but…

      It depends what the initial numbers were.  If you take Wikipeida’s 2003 estimate of Evanston’s population (74,239) and subtract Northwestern’s 2003-2004 estimate of the number of faculty, staff, and students living in Evanston (13,185) you are looking at about 18% of Evanston residents having access to the University Library.  So, if my math is right, that means Evanston spends $82 per person who doesn’t have Northwestern library access on the Evanston library system.  I don’t know what that means.

      1. NU people using EPL

          I think NU people have to be counted in usage.

          I would estimate up to 25% of the people I see in the "Quiet Reading Room" are NU or possibly college age students form other schools.   That is not just during ‘breaks’ or when NU is closed but during reading/exam week the NU library is burst at the seams and not a pleasant sight.  It is also used by what look to be professional people but I doubt many NU staff or faculty.

          I doubt they use the Internet unless a particular question arises.

          They must use it for their kids reading.

           I do see some NU staff [even from the library !] at EPL-Main.    Never-the-less, I suspect they come, get what they want [i.e. check out a book] and leave.

            Aside from students needing a study space, if EPL disappeared, NU people would probably not miss it—except for childrens books which is not a big NU priority.

        1. You just need to define what

          You just need to define what "using the library" really means. Are they using the library the same way they would use Peete’s Coffee (sitting at tables in a relatively quiet place to study) or are they using the library’s collections and services of librarians. Those are services with very different cost structures.

          My point here by excluding NU is two fold: if there was no public library, this segment of the population would still access to library services (with the exception you made, of children’s books — this is why I suggested excluding faculty and students, and leaving staff in, as a crude approximation of the fraction of faculty, staff and graduate students that may use children’s books from the library). The second issue is that NU brings in an additional population that the other Northshore suburbs don’t have, thereby reducing the per capita expense for Evanston relative to other suburbs. It is also a segment of Evanston’s population often discussed with contempt in this forum, except, of course, when their numbers can bring additional funding to the city.

    2. ‘Tax-paying property owners’

      I don’t know of any source that would allow one-stop shopping for data on library tax burden per property owner across different communities — and you would have to decide how you want to treat commercial property owners versus residential property owners. The per-capita figure is used because its easy to calculate from library budgets plus census population data.

    3. Northwestern faculty only get counted if they are residents

      So why would we not include them in the population?  Those faculty that live here pay taxes on their homes or apartments, send their kids to local schools, coach teams, volunteer – in other words, are just like all the other residents in town.  Are you planning on excluding those who live here but work for other big non-profits like the hospitals or the Methodist Board of Pensions?  Or clergy who live in town?

  4. Budgets and Future of EPL-Main

    I hate to say it but EPL has become less important to me over the last year. Most of that due to what must be the effect of budget cuts.
    I’m not blaming the library staff—I assume they only are doing what budgets have dictated. I don’t know if there is blame, at least yet, for administration or the Board.
    I have noticed substantial cuts in the new books [the type and authors they would have automatically purchased a year ago but now even when requested, say they can’t purchase] they have obtained and a reduction in the magazines—I think the published number is a 23% budget cut. Even if they get a particular book that is in high demand—will they be able to afford more than one copy and thus have a long waiting period—inter-library lending exists but I assume each library fills orders for its own patrons first—or even prohibits inter-library loans for X-months.
    Unfortunately NU has also seen budget cuts—I’ve heard numbers but I’m not sure if official. 
    Because the magazines are new each week or month it is easier to notice changes than for books—they are also a continuing expense. While individuals would differ, I suspect there is a reasonable criteria for further magazine cuts so better magazines can be added/retained and the book [DVD?] budget increased. Surely we don’t need all the glamour, men/women’s fitness [despite fitness being an important topic], entertainment, pop culture, ethnic focused, etc. that are on the shelves. 
    There are a few magazines I read at EPL-Main, If NU has not received them yet or canceled or ‘gone electronic. The ‘Quiet Reading Room’ is great but the rest of the third floor is always very noisy [loud talking and cell phones], distracting [e.g. tutoring being done but that is a noble cause and thus to be put-up with and even encouraged], homeless and others sleep at table, etc..   The fact that the ‘Quiet Reading Room’ is busy but never packed makes me wonder how many people even use the library to read material that requires concentration.
    I don’t know if the ‘romance’ novels and other light pleasure reading has been cut back—it must have been also—but I would expect and hope so and know that in itself would probably put the branches out of business.
    Who to blame ? A natural candidate is the ‘Branch Lovers’ who are perfectly willing to see the Main collection diminish just as long as they can walk to their branch and find the latest romance novel [how long will that last]. Taxpayers in general may also balk if they are not getting what they want or are use to from the library—further exasperating the library problems.
  5. TIFs, Bankruptcy,Pension Liabilities & Library Tax Levy As One

    It’s interesting that when one is writing in a vacumn, they are writing in the middle of dirt. Pun intended. Nature abhors a vacumn. The ongoing taffy pull concerning the Library tax levy, did not happen in a vacumn, but over a long period of time (decades). It would be nice to have a "big picture" perspective rather than having such a disconnected and narrow report with so much politically damaging facts left out. Anyone can take statistics and manipulate them to a certain degree, however one would expect more honesty, clarity and objectivity in alleged journalistic writing. Of course, one could be writing in a certain way to set the bait for a response and also be trying to drive more traffic to one’s website. Who knows and more importantly in the long run, who cares?

    "The Library Board wants to impose it’s own tax levy" would be better written as the citizens of Evanston voted via referendum to have a tax levy for the Evanston Library decades ago. The State of Illinois increased the tax levy and capped it in approximately 1973 @ 0.23%. The City Council of Evanston voted to fund the Library @ approximately 0.12% for the latest fiscal year. Where did the 0.11% difference go, that should have gone to the Library? The taxpayers of Evanston are already paying this Library tax levy (of 0.23%), the ONLY change is the Library tax rate showing as a separate line on the Cook County Assessor’s semi annual tax bill. Wouldn’t all taxpayers also like to see a separate line on their property tax bill for all the TIF districts combined in Evanston. Remember, that when any of the taxing ditricts shown on an  Evanston property tax bill ( ie: Dist. 65 & 202, Evanston Township, etc. ) increase their tax levy, the net result is a BACK DOOR TAX INCREASE since the TIF districts are capped for 23 years. Where is the outrage over this developer welfare act/slush fund? One other correction, re:  "the LIbrary Board wants to impose a tax levy" would be better if it was written as: The Library Board after decades of misuse by the City Councils of Evanston (who’s only involvement in the Library tax levy is ministerial per legal precedent) has taken legal and appropiate control of the Library tax levy.  The taxpayers are already paying this tax, however (once again) where did the 0.11% difference between the rightful Library tax levy collected ( 0.23%) and actual tax dollars budgeted for the Evanston Library sytem for the latest fiscal year of 0.12% go?

    "It doesn’t like the budget cuts made as the City tried to deal with the economic impact of the recession" Wow, where to begin? There is still plenty to cut out of the City’s budget, which we will all be paying very close attention to (again) in the near term. However, how did we get here? How did the COE end up truly bankrupt on it’s municipal balance sheet? Well, under liabilities we have as the elephant in the room 175 plus million for police and fire pensions allowed to build up over many years by some current members of our City Council and their predecessors. Isn’t about time that we declared bankruptcy? Perhaps, there would be some mitigation of these overwhelming liabilities that our political class has left us buried under, if such actions were taken. Weren’t the TIFs’ going to pay for themselves as far as holding down taxes when the TIFs expire and the increased tax revenue flowed forth? It’s amazing to see Evanston’s problems blamed on the recession (or as Mayor Tisdahl put it in her State Of The City address: "The Great Recession") as if everything happened by uncontrollable outside forces, not by succesive elected politicians in Evanston making very bad fiscal choices (if they chose to deal with reality at all)  over many years. If our City had lived within it’s means during the fat years we’d be much better prepared for any downturn, no matter how steep. Unfortunately, the silence is deafening as far as any accountability & consequences for our elected officials from a majority of our fellow citizens or our for-profit media outlets. Nothing happens in a vacumn!      



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