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How much should we spend on the library?

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.

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