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Private aid suggested for branch libraries

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told aldermen today that "a strong group of people" in Evanston are willing to seek private funding to keep the branch libraries open.

Tisdahl, speaking at the City Council’s first budget workshop of the year, said it was not clear, based on her conversations with the city’s legal staff, whether it would be possible to set up special tax districts to fund the branches but that the city should look for other ways to garner private funding for them.

More than a dozen residents who live near the south or north branch spoke in opposition City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s plan to shutter the branch libraries as one step toward closing the city’s projected $9.5 million budget deficit.

A few mentioned the idea of private funding, but most simply said the city should continue to pick up the tab for the branches and even open more branches to serve neighborhoods that now lack a branch library.

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes properties close to the south branch library, said he will hold a ward meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the McGaw YMCA to discuss budget issues.

He said people need to consider "not just what you would like to keep, but also what you can live without."

He said the city is facing difficult financial times and that some things will have to be cut.

Library Director Mary Johns, interviewed after the session, said she’s worked in communities both with and without a branch library structure.

She said she was encouraged by the interest in finding private support for the libraries, but noted that there’s a long road from such expressions of support to actually having a steady revenue stream available.

One speaker had suggested opening coffee shops in the library branches to generate additional revenue, but Johns said it’s not at all clear a coffee shop would generate enough profit to do the trick — not to mention the issue of the impact a city-owned coffee shop might have on existing privately owned shops in the neighborhoods.

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