Evanston’s Library Board voted Wednesday night to have library staff pursue an agreement under which a private group would pay for a new, temporary south branch library.

Board members Susan Stone and Dona Gerson disagreed about how to respond to the branch proposal.

The private group, the Evanston Public Library Friends, has raised funds from the public for the past year in competition with the library’s own fundraising efforts. It claims to be an advocate for the library system as a whole, but so far has devoted its financial resources almost exclusively to branch libraries.

The Friends group says it raised $160,000 to fund branch library operations last year.

The library board’s own “Fund for Excellence” campaign brought in $77,000 in private donations in 2010, about the same as the year before.

The private group is now offering to find and fund an interim branch site near the current south branch at 949 Chicago Ave.

The library has lost its lease on the current site, and the board voted last month to close the branch by the end of February as it tries to develop long range plans for the overall future of library services in the city and prepares to levy its own tax on city residents.

The library’s community room looked packed with spectators for the session, but many were journalism students taking notes for a class.

Library board members appeared deeply split about how to respond to the private group’s offer.

Some objected to the requirement that a new branch be near the old site.

Susan Stone suggested the board should instead focus on establishing a branch on the city’s west side, which has lacked branch library service for all but a few years of the past century.

But Dona Gerson said that while she agreed there’s a need for services throughout the city, “We’ve had the offer of a gift, and I don’t think our role is to tell them to do something else that they’ve not suggested.”

Lynette Murphy said acting on the private group’s proposal would be too hasty, with the board now trying to develop a strategic plan for the next decade.

“We know we want to have the best services, whether at the main library or branches,” Murphy said, “but we don’t yet know what those services will look like in five to ten years. Until we get to that point, any decision that looks permanent would be a mistake.”

The sharpest criticism of the private group’s proposal came from Diane Allen, who was unable to attend the meeting, but asked the board’s president, Chris Stewart, to read a written statement she’d prepared.

Stewart quoted Allen as saying the Friends group “is not committed to the community at large, but only to their preconceived ideas of what and where” library services should be.

She said the Friends attitude was “a disservice to the community and showed contempt for the library board’s members.”

Despite the divisions on the board, the seven members present ultimately voted to pursue the offer made by the private group.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Prepare to pay more taxes

    Just you watch, the Library Board will accept the donation and open a branch library.

    Then in about a year or two just as the donated money runs out, the Library Board will raise the tax rate to the maximum level allowed.

    Yes folks, this is an unelected Library Board that voted itself a taxing body during an ongoing severe recession so that it can raise taxes WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!!!

    The mayor and the City Council did not seem to challenge and stop the Library Board from electing itself a taxing body but simply shrug their shoulders as if to say "You’re on your own, good luck and happy taxing."

    This is the same City Council that this year raised gas taxes, utility and water rates taxes, increased the unnecessary and duplicative Evanston Township tax assessor’s budget 80 percent and created a new 311 Call Center, hiring 20 new union employees (yes, 44 employees were laid off).

    This year’s budget was balanced on a 10-month schedule. What will the union-friendly City Council do when millions less in tax revenues come in this year and it has to balance a full year’s budget? 

    Oh yeah, happy taxing.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly!! 

      I agree wholeheartedly!!  With the state increasing taxes, an increase from people not elected to serve,  makes a precedent that any group, which decides to tax the public, can do so by merely voting itself to be a taxing body.  This is truly taxation with out representation.  If the "Friends" truly want to serve the library, then they should allow the library to do what it is supposed to do, serve the people, not be purchased by self interest groups who do not have the entire Evanston community at heart simply because they have the money to do so.  Other Evanston citizens are suffering at the hands of higher taxes with less personal income but still live in Evanston and pay the taxes and need the use of library services, also.Is the Evanston premise that only for the wealthy can services be provided? But by all means, do continue to tax ALL the citizens.

    2. Taxation with Representation

      While I disagree with the opening of a temporary library (will these friends open up libraries in underserved parts of town?) the Board, if it raises taxes, would be doing so with representation.  The Mayor nominates the Board members and the Council approves.  All of these people are duely elected representatives.  It isn’t much different, and probably no larger than in tax dollars, the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District.


  2. Still?????

    First I just want to say, this is going to be an amazing thread! 
    I agree this is absolutely ridiculous; this whole library debacle has been a mess for months. These “friends” claim to be for the library, but like the article states, they’re only concern are the branches. I didn’t hear a stink raised by the “friends” when this happened:
    And to the taxes, that are raised elected officials. I don’t think any politician whether it’s at the federal level or the city/state level actually wants to raise our taxes. Whether or not you agree with that is up to you, but I wholeheartedly believe that they don’t want to. However, when you have had bad management in the past, as all three (federal, state, city) have had, something needs to be done. Raising taxes is the one of the most effective ways to do that. Period. And yes, so is cutting and slashing jobs and programs, but you can only do so much of that, the city needs to operate. The 311 call center is a good idea, but this a bad time to implement it. I think from all the complaining I see on this site, those poor operators are going to be pretty busy answering all the complaints that will be coming in regarding their streets not being plowed, cars parked illegally etc….
  3. How much money?

    BIll, How much money is this group proposing to give?  When will the money transfer occur? Is it for capital costs AND operational costs?  How many years is the arrangement for?  What happens if the group doesn’t come up with the money?  Who is responsible for any liabilities that may be incurred as a result of contracts, etc.. in the event the money doesn’t materialize? 

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