Evanston’s Library Board Wednesday night voted to close the south branch library in February and to provide funding for the north branch library only through August.

Library Board members discuss their budget options.

The vote came amid nearly three hours of debate about how to spend nearly $149,000 remaining in the funds allocated to the library by the City Council after setting aside $3.58 million that the board decided was needed to maintain main library services at their current level.

Library staff said the $149,000 was only enough money to operate a single branch for nine of the 10 months of the budget year that starts in March on the current four-days a week operating schedule.

The staff suggested the option of reducing the schedule by about four hours a week to stretch the funds to last the full 10 months, but the board didn’t vote on that option.

A motion to allocate all the funds to the north branch failed on a 5-4 vote, with opponents saying it would send the wrong message to provide the city’s only branch services to the relatively affluent north end of town.

The vote to fund the north branch for six months passed 7-1, with one abstention, after supporters argued that they owed it to the branch library staff to provide them some assurance about how long their jobs might last. The staff said that because of vacancies, closing the south branch would not cost any current employees their jobs.

It was unclear what the board planned to do with the roughly $50,000 left unallocated by its vote.

The city’s lease for the current south branch library runs out in February — and after many months of uncertainty about the branch’s future, the landlord is said to be unwilling to extend it.

Library staff was unable to provide the board with an estimate of the cost of moving the books and furnishing from the south branch to a new location, and board members appeared to have made no clear progress on identifying a new location for a south branch library or determining how to fund it.

Spectators crowded into the children’s area meeting room at the library for the board session.

Several residents at the meeting urged the board to open a new branch on the city’s west side, possibly in the Evanston Plaza shopping center at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

Board members said they’d talked to State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg about his idea — first floated in June — that a branch library might share space with a new office of the state jobs service, which this month closed its Evanston office. But they noted that efforts so far to find the job service a new office here had failed because landlords were apparently unwilling to rent to the state given its record of tardiness in paying its debts.

One option board members said they had discussed with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl was a three-way maneuver in which Evanston Township offices, now in leased space in a strip mall at Main Street and Dodge Avenue would move to vacant space in the Civic Center while a branch library and the IDES office might move into the strip mall space for the remaining years of the township’s current lease there.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Good!

    Well, the library board fought tooth an nail and ultimately became an independent entitity. Look what happened! Way to go board for killing all of your work. However, this should have happened long ago. There is absolutely NO reason to have three libraries in a town just over 8 square miles with a population of 78,000 residents.

    Thank you library board for being obstructionists and refusing to come to any compromise. The City of Evanston will now be better served by having one central library for all services.

    This is the best news from the city I’ve heard in quite a while!

  2. Very sage decision – yes. 

    Very sage decision – yes.  South branch had long since exceeded its natural lifespan.  North Branch has a little more activity but not much.  The retirement homes, including 3 Crowns only 4 blocks away,  have excellent libraries, with large print books, for seniors, who are supposed to be the main users of N branch.  I hope something can be put in place at Dempster and Dodge.  Maybe a library and homework help center….but, later!

  3. Library Branches

    Thank you for not continuing to tax me out of this community… but I wonder why the Board didn’t  take the $149,000 and call it a savings instead of shutting South Branch and putting a band-aid on the North Branch through August?  A classic example of use it or lose it! 

    Glad to see any local orgs moving towards fiscal responsibility with our tax monies.

    Thanks for that, Brian G. Becharas


  4. Finally!

    My oh my… The Board finally comes to their senses. It’s good to see after wasting so much valuable time of the City Council with endless discussions and essentially whining,that they in the end, did the right thing in closing worthless, under used facilities that benefitted few residents. Woo- hoo for the citizens of Evanston!!

  5. Library Services

    Yes, the branches were not the most effective delivery of outreach library services across Evanston.

    Yes, the branches were not in neighborhoods which had the greatest need for walkable library services. In fact, they were both in very well-to-do wealthy parts of Evanston.

    Yes, the City needs to be much more responsible in how it appropriates funds in the future.

    However, closing the branch libraries without a plan on how to transition outreach library services is a travesty, and you know why when you think this problem through. In a dynamic library system, which we don’t have currently, outreach services reach the communities most in need and enable them to better themselves economically, socially, intellectually, and psychologically. In a static library system, outreach services reach the communities to which geographically restricted. With the shortfall of funding for the City, this was a great opportunity to not only cut costs but to reinvent how we approach libraries. Creative thinking always produces the best results under pressure, and we had a chance to really apply pressure as residents to the City and library system to say "Hey, we need to pay less and get more. We can’t afford to pay for services to the wealthy, but here is what we can afford:_____" And if you believe you can’t afford branch service, you haven’t read our budget and you haven’t heard of 311.

    Instead, we have only adopted half of that message. Our City Council and our library board didn’t come up with OR discuss enough creative solutions during the year-plus that this debate over branches has raged. Our version of finding creative solutions has become "combine the IDES office and the South Branch" — because the State has been so great with paying the bills (Yes, it is a federal pass-through. No, we no longer have an open IDES office in Evanston). Instead, we need to deal with infrastructure itself – how can we mobilize physical services in a new and affordable way? What solutions require what sacrifices from the rest of the library community? Where do we see the future of libraries, as computer centers, as community meeting houses, as book repositories?

    And to a cynical fool closing a so-so library is a cost-saver. Literacy is not something the private sector can do better, love of learning is established through schools for children and then accentuated by great libraries for adults. If you’ve never had a feeling of awe inside a library, you haven’t been to a good one. If you feel like there aren’t any good ones, I’d love to show you some. Yes they are few and far between, but only because we as citizens too often only lazily look at the costs associated with intangible benefits from a library. If you’re a citizen who believes that the best help a person can get in the world is from themselves, then a library is exactly the kind of resource we need to continue funding. If you want to be spoon-fed your intelligence then go ahead and root for them to close. A dynamic library system, with or without physical branches is what we need, and celebrating the closing of branches represents poor judgment.


  6. main library was, is and will be – go there.

    How many examples do we have of those who would do anything to get a book? Lincoln’s parents were both illiterate yet he hungered for books and walked to get them wherever they could be obtained. There are other examples like Rousseau, an orphan on his own as a teenager and hungry to read anything and everything he could find wherever it might be. Would either of these people have stopped to think, "the book is just too far away to be quickly obtained, so I will forget about it"

    The fact is that anyone in Evanston, regardless of their financial situation, can get to the main library if they have the desire to do so. We have the El, the bus, a bicycle and our own two feet, the last option free of charge. The library is no more than a mile and a half from any point in town.

    There is far too much concern with how Evanston "looks" and "what kind of city we want to be". What "outreach" can’t be done at the main? The branches are a convenience. The fact that there is such a fight over something that is by no means necessary indicates how far we are from addressing the terrible financial situation the city is in.

    Maintain services at the main. Let users figure out how to get to them. Nobody is being denied, this agonizing is un-necessary. Every possible saving of money is imperative.


    1. Maintain services at the

      Maintain services at the Main? What about improving services at the Main? If Lincoln or Rousseau were born in our town and hungered for knowledge, they’d certainly get to the library. Unfortunately for the world, the reason why those men are famous is because they are the exception, not the norm. We all need a little prodding now and again, enhancing services while keeping costs level is a more beneficial situation than cutting budget and reducing level and quality of service. If the branches don’t work, then it shouldn’t take a budget crisis to know that, and we need to solve our branch problems. Changing library services shouldn’t be a question of money, because we have it. Look at your budget again, specifically revenues. The city is AAA bond rated for a reason.

  7. Better use of $149K

    • Wouldn’t that money go a long way to improving the collections at the main library? 
    • Or a fine down-payment on a really useful book-mobile?
    • Doesn’t limping along ’til August seem wasteful, or are they hoping for some unknown benefactor to swoop in and fund the North Branch?
  8. look at Cambridge, Massachusetts

     There is absolutely NO reason to have three libraries in a town just over 8 square miles with a population of 78,000 residents.

    The city Evanston wishes it was, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is 6.4 square miles with a population of 105,594 has 7 libraries.Cambridge has far better subway and bus connections and the city still sees the need for libraries in every neighborhood.


    You think Evanston has a problem with a college not paying fair share in taxes? Try dealing with Harvard and MIT for starters.

    Now I will grant you that a library near Evanston Plaza might be a better location than the south branch (which I do use) but closing down both branches is idiotic. 




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