Despite the fact that its budget is in good shape, the Evanston Library Board of Trustees voted Wednesday night to close its doors on Nov. 10, not because it has to pinch its pennies, but because the City of Evanston is in financial difficulty.

The move is one of the peculiar effects of the fact that the library, a few years ago, shifted from being a city department to becoming a taxing body of its own.

Even though it is no longer technically a unit of city government, library employees are still members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and are in the same bargaining unit as city employees.

Because the city is feeling the effects of declining revenues from building permits due to an easing of the building frenzy on the Northwestern University campus, the city has negotiated a day off without pay for its employees on Nov. 10, and that applies to the library employees as well.

So the trustees were faced with the fact that the library’s employees would have to take the day off without pay, and they weren’t happy about it.

“This does not sit well with me in any way, shape or form,” declared trustee Adam Goodman, who at first abstained when the vote on the motion to close its doors Nov. 10 was taken, but then changed his vote to a “no.”

While she sympathized with the unhappiness of her board, Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons said “well we can’t ask our staff to work and not get paid.”

Board President Benjamin Schapiro cast a “reluctant” yes vote, but asked Lyons to suggest to the board ways that the effects of the closure “can be mitigated.”

He added: “We will get blowback for an action we must take even though we don’t have to do it because of our finances.“

The furlough action is expected to save the city some $120,000. The pay for all Evanston Public Library employees will be reduced by the same percentage for the pay period, Danczak said, and all savings from library employees will remain in the Library Fund.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Why is the library undertaking an extensive renovation?
    I am baffled as to how the library can have enough money to undertake the extensive physical renovation it will shortly commence and simultaneously have no money to pay salaries to library emplyees on Nov. 10.

    Would someone be able to explain?

    1. Capital improvements and operating expenses

      Hi Barb,

      The library does not have enough money to undertake the extensive physical renovations it is planning.

      It will have to issue bonds — imposing additional property taxes on Evanston residents for the next 20 years — to fund those renovations.

      Those bonds will cause the library to further exceed the tax cap imposed on it by voters decades ago.

      As a result of exceeding the cap, the additional bonding — and next year’s library operational tax level — will be subject to approval of the City Council.

      A library board that did not “share the pain” on operational spending with the city now, might run into more difficulty than otherwise getting issuance of those bonds approved by the City Council later this fall.

      — Bill

      1. Library Spending

        The library should not be spending money on new locations like the one proposed for the renovated Robert Crown Center.  The City of Evanston and the population base does not warrant more than one location much less the 3 we already have.  Can you report on how we compare to other suburbs on this issue?

        1. multi-libraries

          I’m not an expert, but I do know that other suburbs only have/need one main library.   NO extra taxing of citizens, or looking for other ways to scrounge up non-existing money.  Who and why was yet another one approved to be included withing an ice rink?   Did they promise millions to the structure that they don’t even have?   And why did anyone even run with the idea?

          1. Library spending

            Hi Nally,

            It’s worth noting that at the Library Board’s annual “truth in taxation” hearing Wednesday evening, nobody showed up to complain about the spending.

            Since the Library Board now operates with only the most limited oversight from the City Council (the Council can trim the library’s total tax levy back to the level authorized by referendum, but otherwise has no control over library spending), it would be important for people unhappy with the Library Board’s spending habits to actually show up for the Board’s meetings.

            Information on those meetings can be found here:

            Over many months of public meetings about the new Crown Center, the idea of having a library branch in the new building generally got favorable reviews from people who attended those meetings.

            It seems a consensus has developed that — at least as long as the library is going to have branches — it should have one on the west side — and depending on how you define “west side,” the Crown site can fulfill that goal.

            — Bill

          2. Report on Library Locations

            Bill, can you do a report on how Evanston library locations compare to other suburbs? It would be nice to have some facts on this. Saying we need another location on the “west” side doesn’t make sense. I’m sure everyone would be pleased to have a location in each Ward, but it’s not economically feasible if someone just looked at the numbers.

          3. Library locations

            Hi Patricia,

            The definitive national survey of libraries can be found online here:


            It includes information about branch libraries in each library system.

            The short answer is that most public libraries don’t have branches, but some do. For those that do, there seems to be little consistency either in the number of branches, their size, the geographic areas or population sizes they serve or much of anything else.

            I spent a lot of time on this issue several years ago when closing branches appeared to be a live issue here. It does not seem to be on the table at the moment, so I’m reluctant to invest the time to deeply research it again.

            For what it’s worth, there also is little consistency in how much money communities choose to spend on their public library systems as a whole.

            — Bill

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