After angering both the City Council and the library friends group in recent weeks, the Evanston Library Board Wednesday night decided to slow its pace of change.

Without taking a formal vote, the board decided to delay for a year — until fiscal year 2012 — implementation of the state library fund model under which it could set its own budget and levy its own taxes, overturning a vote it took in August that angered aldermen.

Next it voted to reconsider its decision of last week to limit its tax levy to the 2010-2011 level except for certain personnel costs — a decision that had outraged leaders of the Friends of the Evanston Public Library who feared it would force the closing of branch libraries.

Then it began the laborious process of identifying cuts in the budget that would satisfy the city’s budget requirements for the coming shortened 2011 fiscal year without closing either of the two branches.

Administrative Services Manager Paul Gottschalk said they could do that by trimming $35,000 from the already-reduced payroll and reducing the collections budget for such items as books, movies, and CDs, by another $60,000. The salary reductions, he said, could probably be made without additional layoffs by opening the main library at 10 a.m. each day instead of at 9 a.m.

None of the proposed budget cuts was met with any enthusiasm by the trustees, but despite considerable prodding by Gottschalk, they failed to come up with any better ideas. They all agreed, however, that closing the branch libraries was out of the question.

There was a moment of levity when Gottschalk, emphasizing cuts that had already been made, said, “We’ve stopped washing our windows,” to which one trustee quipped, “that would be a good job for the Friends.” To that, a voice from the audience said, “We don’t do windows.”

Board President Christopher Stewart, who suggested the one-year hiatus before implementing the state library model, contended there was too little time to consider a levy for the FY2011 budget. By delaying it for a year, he said, the Board could begin planning now for the following year, including holding public hearings and workshops in an effort to get a clear picture of the steps that needed to be taken to upgrade the quality of the system. 

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. The Library Board Gives Me a Headache

     "They all agreed, however, that closing the branch libraries was out of the question."

    Ok, great. Now we’re closing the main library an extra an hour a day, reducing the collections budget, not washing the windows. . . all to ensure that we don’t touch the branch libraries (which are themselves now closed 3 days a week.)

    This just keeps getting crazier. 

  2. What about raising fees?

    The library board seems to be focusing exclusively on cuts to make the budget work. What about raising fees?

    There used to be a 50-cent charge to order a book from another library in the suburban system, then that charge was eliminated. How about bringing it back, or even making it $1?

    How about increasing the charge to rent a video? How about increasing the fines for overdue books? How about charging some nominal fee for library card issuance/replacement?

    None of those alone would end the budget woes, I’m sure, but they would all help a little, and they would make sure that those who benefit from library services pay a little for them.

  3. Why doesn’t the main library

    Why doesn’t the main library consider a bookmobile and close the branch libraries?  This would allow outreach to MANY communities (schools and underserved communities included), and would likely be much cheaper than the "bricks & mortar" model of having branches.  The branch library is an old concept not followed in many of our fellow suburban libraries.  The bookmobile concept often has appeared successful however.  Change isn’t easy but we have to consider new models of service.

  4. Library fiasco shows unions run the show

    The politics in this ordeal is rich and uneccessary. And it seems public hearings are just not in the cards.

    Mayor Tisdahl, who said she opposed the unelected Library Board’s vote to make itself a taxing body, appointed Sharon Arceneaux to the Library Board.

    Tisdahl did Arceneaux a big favor when she bought Arceneaux’s home that was in foreclosure in 2002. Tisdahl let Arceneaux, a union leader at Evanston High School, and her family to continue to live in the home and sold it back to them without listing it three years later.

    If your home is in foreclosure and someone buys it from you, let’s you live in it then sells it back to you, then there’s no doubt that it’s a big favor. And it appears Arceneaux returned the favor when she and Tisdahl’s other Board appointee voted "to create a budget that would include a spending increase only to cover any increases in library staff salaries and benefits," eliminating any chance to keep the branch libraries open.

    There was no public hearing about Tisdahl’s Library Board appointments, which seems highly inappropriate considering the controversy. And there are reports that an Evanston librarian with 20 years applied to the Library Board but said she never heard back from Tisdahl who has the sole power to appoint members to the Library Board. What qualifications does Arceneaux have anyway?

    Even more disturbing, Council members Burrus, Wilson and Holmes publicly stated that they saw nothing out of the ordinary with the Arceneaux/Tisdahl relationship.

    This entire episode is the perfect reason why the Library Board should have opted for the Library District where VOTERS elect Library Board members. Instead, the Library Board chose the Library Fund model with the blessing of Evanston Public Library Friends who had Democrat congressional candidate and community activist Jeff Smith and former Evanston Alderman and Demcorat congressional candidate Eb Moran as active members.

    Tisdahl allowed the president of the Evanston city employees sit on a budget task force this year and she and every Council member received public union campaign donations. Keeping the branches open only costs about $400,000 per year. Not laying off ANY Evanston unionized  firefighters in the past four years of this Recession and allowing them to keep overtime and merit pay increases has cost the city more each year.

    What I think happened here is that the Library Board and EPL with some of its influential  liberal members chose not to battle the city’s budgetary decisions that, for example, went easy on the Evanston Fire Union, which last month filed a lawsuit against Evanston that not only got three recently laid off firefighters rehired but had the city agree that an arbritator can decide whether the city can layoff any Evanston firefighters in the future. Consider the precedent that sets for other Evanston public unions such as city and police union employees.

    In fact, the Library Board’s recent vote includes a spending increase to cover the salary and benefits of unionized library staff (who cares about the branches).

    Public unions simply control this town. The only way to stop it is to vote out the union constituents sitting on the City Council – that’s everyone!

    But it seems all the major players in this dance are liberal Democrats who are skilled in the art of tax and spend and controversial political manuevers that do not include public hearings or allow voters a say.

    It’s simply the same song, second verse, a little louder and a whole lot worse. And the rest of us pay for it in higher taxes.

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