Library supporters dominated the city’s final community budget workshop Wednesday night, decrying the proposed closure of Evanston’s branch libraries.

Laurie Keenan of the library friends group said branch libraries provide the city “the best bang for the buck.”

The Evanston Public Library Friends organization, its demand for increased library spending rebuffed by the Library Board earlier this month, turned out a few dozen of its claimed 2,000 members for the workshop at the Levy Center. 

They proceeded to proclaim libraries the most important of city services. Asked to place stickers by a list of city functions that should be spared from cuts as the city tries to close a $3.5 million budget deficit, they gave what City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz tallied as 53 votes for libraries, compared to 20 for police and 19 for the fire department.

Other top vote getters were senior services at 20 and economic development at 17.

Meeting attendees review a set of answers from staff to questions posed by residents at the first budget workshop.

If the budget gap isn’t closed by spending cuts, it would require an increase of nearly 9 percent in the city’s property tax levy to close it with new revenue, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said.

So, much of the meeting was taken up with developing a list of suggestions for other ways to close the deficit. Those ideas were then put to a sticker-based vote.

A wall of choices, and a few stickers to mark favorites.

Ideas getting the most votes included:

  • Eliminating township government: 18 votes. The township, a separate governmental entity from the city, has a total annual budget of under $1.3 million, most of which is spent on aid to the indigent. It’s not entirely clear whether under state law it can be eliminated or what steps would be required.
  • Reducing use of outside consultants: 17 votes.
  • Stop funding feasibility studies for private developers: 14 votes. This appeared to be a criticism of Monday’s City Council vote to spend less than $50,000 on a study of the possibility of reusing the former Varsity Theatre building as a performing arts space.
  • Ask Northwestern University to contribute funds to the city’s libraries: 12 votes.
  • Raise library funds with a voluntary extra payment for city vehicle stickers: 10 votes.
  • Rent out vacant space in the Civic Center to other governmental entities: 10 votes. The most likely prospect, Evanston Township, has a long-term lease with a private landlord.
  • Switch city workers to defined-contribution pension plans: 9 votes. This idea would require approval by the state legislature.
  • Sell water to other municipalities: 9 votes. City staff is already working on this concept, which expected to take years to become a reality.

The city manager talks about the upward trend in city pension costs. 

Bobkiewicz promised to have estimates of costs savings for many of the proposed budget-cutting concepts posted to the city website by Friday, where site visitors will be able to vote for their own favorites.

The city also plans to have a marathon replay of budget meeting video tapes on the city’s cable channel from noon Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons seen in the viewfinder of a video camera recording the meeting.

“So if you’re having trouble sleeping any time during those three days,” Bobkiewicz said, “Channel 16 is the place to be.”

Update 12:50 p.m. 10/1/10: City Manager Bobkiewicz now says technical difficulties with recording Wednesday’s meeting mean the video won’t be available, but that the Evanston Community Media Center’s staff has created a summary of the event to air over the weekend based on the slide presentation and the voting that took place.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


    1. Come to meetings and bring your friends

       How do we get the branch libraries closed? We have to come to meetings with lots of people and tell the aldermen and the library board how we feel. If necessary, we have to create websites and form non-profit groups and raise money to get our message out to the community. We need to attend meetings in all the wards to explain our point of view.

      In short, we have to use the same tactics that the EPL Friends are using to get themselves heard. There is an assumption that they are speaking for the majority of Evanstonians when they are really just a vocal, well-funded, privileged minority with plenty of time on their hands. Unfortunately, those of us working people who don’t have the time and the money to devote entirely to this cause are unlikely to be heard.

      I wonder how they’ll like living in Evanston when we’ve all moved or been foreclosed on because we can’t pay the taxes here any longer. Of course, since they never go south of Central Street, they probably won’t notice.

  1. Enough with the library

    This seems like an easy decision to everybody except the library fans.  We have a main, beautiful library.  Use it.  The branch libraries are small and (at least the one by me is) rarely used.  The City has bigger problems to deal with.  If there was an attempt to close down (or even cut funding for) the main library, I would be advocating with these folks.  But, this has gone on too long.  Cut the police?  Um, I feel like I get served by the police daily.  In the 12 years I have lived in Evanston, I have been to the library once.  Let’s get our priorities straight.

  2. Rational Thoughts? Anyone? Anyone?

    Wow. It’s become clear that rational thought just isn’t in the cards for this topic. Keeping two branch libraries open is more important than police and fire protection? Tell that to the people’s house who caught on fire a couple of months ago by my house. Tell that to the neighbors of Ramy supermarket that was apparently nothing more than a convenient store/drug haven.   
    Like I’ve stated before, I’m for libraries. This city is lucky to have such a nice one downtown. But only 20 votes for senior services? 17 votes for economic development???!!!!  It’s very telling that the voluntary extra charge for city stickers to raise funds only got 10 votes. It won’t work. The 53 people who voted last night would be the only ones to do it. 
    Quote from Marty Lyons: If the budget gap isn’t closed by spending cuts, it would require an increase of nearly 9 percent in the city’s property tax levy to close it with new revenue.
    I say we put this up to a simple majority vote and let’s let the people decide. Raise your taxes for something that you may not use, or close the branches and keep the main library open. 
  3. Library versus branches

    I support the library whole heartedly but that is not the same as the branches.  The selection of new books and even maintaining the currect periodicals has been dramatically hurt.   Getting rid of the branches won’t solve the problem but will certainly help if the resources are moved back to the Main.

    Putting the library over fire and police ?  Shows how far off from reality the branch lovers have got !

  4. Say what?

    If you cut the police force you won’t have enough people to actually use the branches. People will begin fleeing town en masse. There seems to be so many criminals in the area that it’s a joke.

  5. Selfess

    The friends of the library are not friends of the hard working taxpayers in Evanston.  Please go away.

  6. Library fans would cut cops before books

    Tell the police department they can now forward the calls for service to the library! I’m sure the book-mobile could be put back into service to come to the homes of these voters when they need police services. If they put a water hook up on it, the fire dept. could be eliminated too and the fire stations turned into library branches!

  7. Close the branch libraries!

    This is getting ridiculous.  We need to close the branch libraries and put those resources into our main branch.  For the folks that are complaining about using the branch libraries with their children I ask, why did we fund a new children’s area in the main branch?  That area is awesome and an experience we should be giving our children – not those ridiculous store-front branches.

    I grew up in a town with a population of approximatey 70K and we only had one library.  It was a mysterious and grandly wonderful historical property with giant pillars outside and I loved going there.  Had I been taken to a store-front with a minimal selection of books, I honestly think I would not have experienced the attraction I felt when we took our weekly trip to the library.  Row upon row upon row of books beckoned behind its wonderful facade and I could not wait to explore the unknown story held inside of their covers.  

    I hope someday we can put this "to branch or not to branch" argument behind us and give our main library the respect, love and funding it deserves!

    1. unload the Branch Libraries

      Instead of closing the libraries outright, the City should do what Northwestern did with the   Dawes McMansion:

      Give the branch libraries to the Friends.  Give them the deed to the North Branch, and let them try to negotiate a  lease for the South Branch…give them ownership of all tables, books, computers, etc.  on the condition that they will maintain the branches without any help from the City.

      Maybe the South Branch can move into Chuckie’s house…since almost nobody goes to visit Chuckie anyway, having the South Branch there might double or triple the annual number of visits.

      1. Unloading The Branch Libraries

        I wish there was a ‘like’ button available on EvanstonNow.  I would be tapping it in support of your idea Dr. Who Knows!

    2. I would go further

      I think it’s time to seriously consider shutting the main library as well. There’s a beautiful library in Wilmette … and Skokie has a wonderful facility as well. The branch libraries are just a drop in the city-budget bucket … if we want to make a real impact on the finances of the city, we need to look even further. I think the main library is a luxury we can’t afford. We have beautiful libraries in our neighboring towns — the city could save some serious dollars by encouraging patrons to use those facilities instead. And imagine the revenue the city could derive by leasing out the current library facility.

      1. Ummm, have you seen the state budget?

        Based on what is happening at the state level, there is a good chance there may not be Interlibrary Loan…or in other words,  the ability to go to Wilmette or Skokie libraries for services.Library services are paid for by the municipality. The ability to use other library services has been supported by the state….and we know the state of the state.

        Don’t bank on using other libraries.

        1. Free riders

          I also don’t see why Skokie and Wilmette would give us a free ride.   Under the current system, we are still required to have an Evanston library card…

          Closing the branch libraries and having a nice downtown library really is the only realistic choice here.

    3. I agree

      Close the branches and put the money in the main library. There is  the Wilmette library a few blocks away and a few blocks in the other direction is the main branch. There are more libraries than pizzarias in evanston. Wouldn’t that be a great place on central street for a pizza place!

  8. As a city employee I was

    As a city employee I was surprised at the irony I witnessed today when I read both the headline here at Evanston Now "Library Fans Would Cut Cops Before Books" and the e-mail I recieved today from the City of Evanston- "City employees are invited to sign up for an Evanston Public Library card at the Civic Center. Even City employees who do not live in Evanston are entitled to full membership privileges at EPL. Just remember to bring your City of Evanston ID badge."

    So let me get this straight. I’m at risk to lose my job in an effort to save the libraries, but as a parting gift…I get a Library Card! Hooray for me ! Will it be revoked when I am laid off? I guess I can then hang out in front of the library with the jobless mobs that pollute and harass.

  9. Library Friends and West Branch

    Lets have a show of hands of those ‘Friends’ that protested as much when the West Branch was closed.  Or is it just when a branch in their walking district of mostly white non-Hispanic people use it ?  

    [Perhaps they don’t even go to ‘their’ branch, just want it in their neighborhood to say they have a library just like they have leather bound Shakespeare on their shelf but never even opened them?]

    1. West Branch Library

      That storefront with a small rollercart of books, computer, and a folding table was not a branch library, it was an effort to quiet the Southwest and West side residents who are demanding what the North and near South side of downtown residents have had since Evanston’s inception – favoritism at city hall. 

  10. Shameful

    Wednesday’s meeting was the first time I went to a civic municipal event.  I was ashamed and embarrassed by  what I saw.  The audience was rude, irrational, and ugly.  It was truly tragic.  I thought the city staff should have walked out.  At least, one member of the audience was drunk or on drugs.  I do not like knowing those people are my neighbors. 

    This meeting proves the truism: Evanston residents love to hear themselves talk.

    Wednesday’s meeting demonstrated why Evanston has gained such a bad reputation.  

    Wednesday’s meeting was a victory for narcissism and a tragedy for dignity.

    1. Absolutely Shameful

      I understand how you feel about these meetings.  I went to one meeting about the library branches.  I was appalled at the behavior of the citizens.  

      However, I think there is a different point to these meetings.  I think they provide an opportunity for the crackpots of our community to vent.  They can use these forums for their self-absorbed rants rather causing problems in the community.  It does not matter what the issue is.  They just want to rage against something.

      More importantly, these forums provide an important service for me.  It helps me identify the individuals I want to keep away from my children and out of my home.

  11. Librarian/Crime scene technician

    Sure more money for the libraries and cut some police and firemen. Maybe the library staff could have helped with the homicide last night too?! Sounds like a solid plan to me…

  12. Libraries

    Judging from most of the responses above, most citizens of Evanston possess A LOT more common sense and selflessness than the branch library advocates.  They are willing to cut Fire and Police to save the branch libraries – it’s completely irresponsible!  I used the north branch library when my children were young, but we have a beautiful, state of the art library in downtown Evanston.  The branches are a luxury we simply CAN’T AFFORD.  These people need to get real!

  13. Friends are looking for babysitters

    These so called Friends came to the 5th ward meeting a few weeks ago to plead their case. One of the women was telling us how she needed the branch library because it was too difficult to get her 5, yes 5 kids to the main library. Seems to me all they were looking for was free babysitting service from the city. Not one of them told us how many people actually use the branch libraries. If no one uses the branch libraries, close them!

    1. Not looking for a babysitter

      Hm.  I’m not sure that argument makes much sense, Gladys.  I only have two kids, and I don’t really like taking them to the main library either, but it is more because it is such a big space and it is hard for me to keep an eye on both of them at the same time.  In the branch libraries, it is much easier for me to see what both of them are up to so that I don’t have to have others "babysit" my kids for me.

  14. Inaccurate reporting

      This report is neither accurate nor complete.  There is not a choice between branch libraries and policemen or fireman.  Citizens were not asked to "sticker" a choice of cutting police services or keeping the branches open.  Suggestions were made for possible cuts or enhancements that might allow the budget to balance.  Many people in attendance objected to the "sticker" game, noting that there was little sense in playing along with that since there was no way to determine the money saved by potential elimination of services (how much would you save by eliminating future speed humps or elm tree disease maintenance?) and the percentage impact it would have on the budget.

    Saying that a policeman’s job was in jeopardy because a citizen supports the branch library is ludicrous and erroneous.  Perhaps those who had that interpretation were not present and therefore received the incorrect information.  Anyone who furthers that type of controversy is a rabble rouser, and anyone who passes it on is merely an uninformed gossip.

    Get informed – go to a library!  And, by the way, many people who donated to keep the branches open marked their donations for the branches or a West Branch initiative.


    1. Re: Inaccurate reporting

      I agree the headline does not exactly portray what happened at the meeting. I think it was inspired by a comment Mr. Bobkiewicz made asking the EPL Friends how many police officers they would like him to layoff in order to save the branch libraries. As far as I understand it, no one ever suggested saving the branch libraries are more important than keeping Evanston police.

      1. Just the facts

        Hi Kit and Alan,

        Sorry you don’t like the outcome of the vote. But it was what it was.
        People were given a set of five stickers to use to indicate what services they felt were most important from a list of 32.
        After the exercise, 53 people had selected libraries and only 20 had selected police.
        That clearly indicates that a majority of people voting placed a higher value on libraries than on police or any other city service — at a meeting called to decide where to cut $3.5 million from the city’s budget. The headline dramatically summarizes that outcome in seven words.
        Given that the city spends $32.3 million a year on police services and police pensions and $4.2 million on libraries — it’s not irrational to suggest that there might be more room for trimming at the police department than the library. It just may not be the will of the community at large.
        I do think it would have improved the session had there been time for a second round of voting after the results of the first were announced. Faced with the stark outcome, some folks might have adjusted their positions.
        — Bill
    2. Of course they objected to the “sticker game”

      They were being asked to prioritize and it looks silly to put libraries at the top.  That’s what the rest of us have been saying.  It’s not that we don’t like libraries, it’s that something has to go.

  15. Inter-library Loan

    First of all i’m not blaming the library staff.  Most of them are very good and helpful, though one seems to have just eaten a pickle which is reflected in answering questions.

    I don’t know about administration or the Board—we will see how they do from decisions they will make.



    If the state does away with inter-library loan [lack of funds for it reduced the inter-library loans earlier this year] or other EPL constraints cause such, it would be a disaster.

    Library budgets have been cut and they can’t purchase a lot of new books [see the book and periodical cuts at EPL so far] so inter-library loan has been the life saver.


    As to the staffing, i don’t know what the needs are but I do see patrons who don’t seem to have any idea how to use a library and take-up a lot of time answering questions that they should not have to answer.  I see several partrons asking inane questions every time I’m there—some they should have been able to look up and others are just too inane to ask.  One seems to just want to talk to someone—and does  the same at NU.


    Funds for the computers and maintainence must be tight.  Yet there are people who only use them for music, videos and games—a very expensive use.  Others have figured out how to ‘game’ the system and be on the computers for hours at a time [turning off the timer, getting multiple iDs, etc..]

    I don’t know how you control this without the ACLU sueing the city !

    1. Please contact us with your concerns

      I appreciate your comments. As Head of Adult Services for the Evanston Public Library, it’s helpful for me to know about your concerns. I would be very interested in hearing any specifics you could share with me about unpleasant customer service, holes in our computer registration system, or our periodicals collection weaknesses. Although as you point out, we continue to deal with budget constraints, we remain comitted to exellent customer service, and I would like to do anything I can to improve our service in these difficult times.


      Lesley Williams

      Head of Adult Services

      Evanston Public Library


  16. fire/police v. libraries?

    AT that meeting, I heard no one, NO ONE, voice the opinion that libraries are more important than fire and police. What people were asked to do with voting was to choose what is most important to them in the city budget.

    If we had been asked what was least important and fire and police showed up there, your story would have merit. Remember, please, that there were about 50 choices for 5 stickers.

    You can be in favor of something without being opposed to something else. Right?

    1. Right

      So we can be opposed to the branch libraries staying open but still support the main library?

  17. So what has happened to these “Friends”

    So what has happened to these so called "Friends of the Library"? They haven’t made a peep since the rally with the minority contractors. Have they gotten bored with their cause or have they just realized that they should be home taking care of their kinds instead of shuffling them off to the library! Leave my taxes alone and hire yourself a baby sitter!

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