The Evanston Public Library Board this evening voted to reject a proposal from the EPL Friends group for a new south branch library at 900 Chicago Ave.
Board member Gail Bush raises her hand to be recognized as Board President Chris Stewart speaks.
The vote was 5-2 against the plan. Opponents said they didn’t believe the library has the $60,000 to spare to staff the facility from March through December. The Friends had offered to cover the rent for the storefront.
Board member Mildred Harris said other locations should have been considered, beyond the one the Friends chose on the same block as the old branch that’s closing at the end of this week.
Noting that branch backers had argued the Chicago Avenue location had convenient bus service, Harris said that buses also run down Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, so a location in the shopping center at that west side intersection should have been considered.
“I feel rushed,” Harris said, “more time should be taken to consider all these things.”
Member Sharon Arceneaux said that when she moved into the 5th Ward decades ago the library branch there was closing. “We had to live with that,” Arceneaux said.
“I appreciate everything the Friends have done,” she added, but the group’s proposals for adding services on the west side amount to “just crumbs that were going to be thrown over there to keep somebody quiet.”
“We’re tired of not having resources,” Arseneaux said, adding that any branch library solution “has to be fair for everyone or we need to have just this one place” — the downtown library where the board was meeting.
Susan Newman defended the Friends proposal saying it would be a flexible space, much more community-focused than the current branch, and would provide a chance to experiment while the board is developing its strategic plan this year.
Gail Bush, who joined Newman in voting for the Friends plan, argued that “those who have had library services should retain that, and those who have been underserved should be served.”
But the board’s president, Chris Stewart, said that with the library’s tight budget situation he didn’t believe the board should take on the extra costs of the new branch — which he said were likely to be highly variable, despite the seemingly precise estimates prepared by the library’s staff.
He also argued that decisions about the shape of library services for the future should wait until after the board completes the strategic planning process later this year.
During public comment at the start of the meeting the board heard from just two residents, who both opposed the new branch.
Sue Eddington of 807 Davis St. said she’d been a high school librarian for 18 years and that tight budgets now require careful scrutiny of every line item.
“We currently enjoy the luxury of branch libraries,” Eddington said, “but except for the fact that some people can walk to them, they are 100 percent redundant to programs offered at the main library.”
Having a library within walking distance is nice, she added, but not necessary. Public transportation offers an adequate solution.
And she said revenues drained by the branches make it impossible to upgrade what she said was the main library’s “mediocre and aging” book collection.
Joan Kelly, who described herself as a long-time Evanstonian, said she’d used the south branch when her children were little.
“But I’m not a fan of branches,” she added, “because we don’t have the money to support the main library and the branches.”