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.”

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. thank god

    okay. it's dead. will the "friends" please move on? they seem to be the only people in the entire community who think branches are good idea at this point.

    please, on behalf of the majority of the population and tax payers, just drop the branches

  2. Hold the Library Board’s Feet to the Fire

    Sanity has at last prevailed. For God's sake, if you agree with this decision, LET THE LIBRARY BOARD KNOW. Post your comments to the RoundTable, Patch and TribLocal as well as EvanstonNow. Post to the Library Facebook page and the Friends Facebook page. You can be sure the "Friends" and all their obsessed supporters will be flooding the inboxes with their ire about this sensible decision. If we don't want the board to backtrack, they need to hear from the silent majority.

  3. It’s still not dead

    from the Friends website:

    Evanston Public Library Friends announce that work begins today at the new 900 Chicago Avenue, Suite 102 location, for Evanston Public Library Friends’ Outpost, despite the Library Board’s lack of support for the initiative at last night’s Library Board meeting. In the very near future patrons will be invited come see what’s in store, and the Outpost space is anticipated to open officially in mid-March.  Staffed by volunteers, the space will have a collection of donated books and other reading material for children and adults, as well as computers and internet access, and will be open to the public five days a week.

    From Friends member Ellen Newcomer's statement;

     “We hope that the books from South Branch, which have been purchased with Evanston taxpayers’ money, will stay in Evanston and help bolster our collection at the Outpost and as a distribution point for our other locations throughout the City.”

    So, these non-elected, non city employees are going to take part of the Library's taxpayer funded collection and stick it in their "outpost"? I don't think so. Those books and dvds should go to refresh the Main collection, which badly needs them.

  4. Support for main library

    It is good to see that the Library Board is rethinking the best use of its funds and focusing on maintaining and enhancing the operations of the main library.  Funds are limited for all valuable city activities and keeping a strong library in one location seems most efficient and effective.  We all valuable the role of a library in our community, but we have to think carefully about the best use of our resources.

    1. Neighborhood Levy Centers now ?

      Now that EPLF have lost the battle, maybe they can turn to setting up senior centers through the city.  They said the branch libraries were needed for the elderly, what about getting to the Levy Center—that is a real chore.  Or now that lost their battle to not have to walk/drive/CTA to the library, will they disappear since seniors were obviously not their real concern.

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