Evanston’s Library Board recently has proclaimed its dedication to outreach to the city’s minority and low income communities.

But there was little evidence Wednesday night that those communities are buying into the outreach claim or see it as a reason to back the board’s effort to break free from the City Council’s budget oversight.

The sparse crowd for Wednesday night’s meeting.

The board went to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in the heart of the city’s historically black west side 5th Ward neighborhood and held what must be a contender for the whitest meeting ever in that building.

Of the roughly three dozen people in the room, the overwhelming majority were white. Of the African-Americans who were there, none spoke out for or against the plan.

While the library opened a temporary outpost this summer in the Dempster Plaza shopping center on the west side, for most of the past century its only two year-round branch libraries have been located in mostly white, relatively affluent parts of town.

Some board members at the meeting insisted that they’ve made no decision yet about whether to keep the existing branches open.

So, as the meeting was ending, some of the white folks who were there, including some north branch library supporters, got into a discussion about whether there would be any city-owned community meeting places left to serve the 7th Ward, if the north branch library on Central Street closed.

One woman in the audience said there would be none. A man contradicted her, saying there would be two — the Chandler-Newberger Community Center on Central Street and the Evanston Ecology Center at McCormick Boulevard and Bridge Street.

“No, that’s in the 5th Ward,” the woman insisted, referring to the Ecology Center.

That assertion came as a surprise to Alderman Jane Grover, who was in the audience for the meeting and has held 7th Ward meetings at the Ecology Center.

The center sits on the banks of the North Shore Channel, the waterway that divides Evanston neighborhoods racially. And it’s located at Bridge Street, which provides a link between the neighborhoods.

But the Ecology Center is on the northwest bank, on the white side of the divide, and the city’s ward map shows that — like Chandler-Newberger — it is indeed in the 7th Ward.

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Race, class and library branches

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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