Evanston library trustees stunned leaders of the library friends advocacy group Wednesday night by voting 5-3 to build a new budget based on only a relatively small spending increase.

With two new members confirmed Monday by the City Council attending their first board meeting, the board adopted a proposal from member Diane Allen-Jacobi to plan for a budget that would increase only by the anticipated increase in salary and fringe benefit costs for the existing library staff.

Library Board member Diane Allen-Jacobi.

While Allen-Jacobi and the library’s administrative services manager, Paul Gottschalk, both said they were unable to immediately estimate what percentage increase that would amount to in the budget, it was clearly smaller than any of the proposals for restoring cut library services that Gottschalk had prepared for the board Wednesday in response to the board’s actions at its August meeting.

Those proposals would have boosted library spending by 10.8 to 15.5 percent.

The current year’s library budget contained funding for only a half year of branch library operations and contained a reduced level of funding for new book purchases that advocates of more spending have called grossly inadequate.

Under Allen-Jacobi’s plan the library would have to make cuts in other areas, find new operating efficiencies or increase revenue from other sources to continue full branch operations or restore collection funding. 

The library’s administrative services manager, Paul Gottschalk, talks about budget options.

Clearly feeling jilted by the board, some members of the Evanston Public Library Friends group walked out of the meeting immediately after the vote, with one saying to other supporters as she left “I’m out of here!”

Frances Seidman, who’s spoken in favor of more library funding at several City Council meetings, said, “I don’t get it.”

“Where’s the money for a collection that’s been starved for years? Technical services are falling farther and farther behind. Where is the additional staff who’d know how to use new equipment?” she added.

It appears the guideline the board adopted would increase library spending by somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 percent, at a time when the city as a whole is struggling to reduce spending by roughly 5 percent to close an anticipated budget deficit of several million dollars.

The two new board members, Sharon Arceneaux and Mildred Harris, joined Allen-Jacobi, Dona Gerson and Lynette Murphy in voting to adopt the new funding guideline. Members Chris Stewart, Gail Bush and Susan Newman voted against it. Member Susan Stone was absent.

Gerson and Murphy had voted last month against the board’s plan to impose its own tax levy this year.

Library friends advisory board member Jeff Smith said after the meeting that while he was disappointed by the vote, the debate over library funding is far from over.

Allen-Jacobi said after the meeting that while the friends group has had a wonderful impact in increasing interest in the libraries, she recognizes that many other Evanstonians don’t believe they can afford an increase in library taxes in this economy.

The friends, she said, are also very focused on the existing library branches, and that while she supports an active outreach program to the community, it’s not clear to her that the existing branches are the most effective, efficient or equitable way to get that job done.

She said she hopes the friends will continue to work to support the library, even if the board isn’t able to continue to deliver all the programs they want, and she added that she personally still strongly favors the idea of a separate tax levy for the library controlled by the library board.

The library trustees also discussed Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s proposed ordinance that would set a floor for library spending at the current level and provide for future increases corresponding to the overall growth in the city’s general fund.

Board members who have strongly favored the separate library tax levy indicated they either oppose the ordinance or believe will not be effective in providing the library sufficient funds for operations. The two new board members didn’t express an opinion about the ordinance, or about whether they favor the separate tax levy.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Friends Financing of the Branches

    I thought the agreement was that the friends would raise the money to be the sole support of the branches—no library or other city funds to go to the support ??

      Now even the limited funds of EPL are going to support the pet project of the few !

  2. vox populi, vox dei

    Apparently the Board has gotten the message. Unlike the fake ‘grassroots’ tea party rebellions (brought to you by the Koch family and the Murdoch/Saudi FOX News) , the anger at the anti-democratic coup de bibliotheque was genuine and uncoordinated.

  3. Sanity Prevails

    Bravo to the library board members who actually listened to the entire community and made a decision that was sensitive to all Evanstonians in a difficult economy. Now we will see if the Friends really have the interests of the entire community at heart or really about just saving the branches in their own neighborhoods. If they really care about outreach to all and supporting library services for all, they’ll continue fundraising and will explore alternatives to the current branches. 

  4. It’s fascinating that

    It’s fascinating that something as important as the services provided by any library are being debated as though the impact is superficial and frivolous. Especially considering our location.

    The home page of Evanston Life lists the Library fifth in the menu of services; someone should tell them to put it last. Evanston’s media proudly states we are “home to Northwestern University, Evanston has a variety of excellent higher educational opportunities, and we all know where the US is ranked these days where education is concerned.

    But apparently we now live in a town where the Library is not considered an important part of education.

    We cannot complain as the culture shifts to more and more dumbing down of life versus real support and true belief in services to empower and educate all individuals. I lived in Cincinnati, OH for a couple of yrs, an almost impossible personal adjustment from my usual sophisticated, urban upscale city I call home. In Cincinnati people earn less, spend less, and certainly have less to choose from without a city like Chicago as neighbor.

    1. Library Underfunded for Years

      The Evanston Public Library has been underfunded for years, particularly compared to our neighbors in other suburbs. The branches, particularly the South Branch, were neglected for years and showed their age. South Branch was never made ADA accessible. Yet only now, when we’re in a recession and budgets have been cut in all city departments, are people bemoaning the state of our libraries. Where were you 5 or 10 years ago when the collection budget was being cut and trade offs were being made between keeping the branches and providing services at the Main library?

      Yes, Evanston should have a better library than it does, given our size, location and educational level of our population. But now isn’t the time to create the gold standard. Now is the time for brainstorming creative ways to keep the library moving forward in the most efficient, cost-effective manner, providing the most services to the most people. That does not mean keeping branches that are obsolete and poorly located. It means thinking outside the box. 

      The library board, staff and friends (as existed prior to February 2010) have never been the most creative bunch. Hopefully, necessity will be the mother of invention and they will now begin to think about how to create a sustainable library for the 21st century.

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