Race, class and library branches

As Evanston officials try to resolve the debate over branch libraries, one issue lurking in the background is the economic and racial disparity between the neighborhoods that do have branches and those that don’t.

Racial disparity

The North Branch library, at 2026 Central St., is located in census tract 8091. It and two adjoining north Evanston census tracts are the only ones in the city in which the population is more than 90 percent white.

The South Branch library, at 949 Chicago Ave., is located in census tract 8099. It is the next-whitest tract in the city with a population that is 88.67 percent white.

The estimated percentage of white residents by census tract in Evanston in 2009. Source: U.S. Census and Claritas via PolicyMap.com.

Across Evanston as a whole, 64.41 percent of all residents are white.

By comparison, the main library downtown is located in census tract 8094, which, with a population 73.58 percent white, is closer to the citywide average.

Economic disparity 

The census tract that houses Evanston’s North Branch library has the third highest median income of any census tract in the city, at $104,586.


Median household income by census tract in Evanston in 2009. Source: U.S. Census and Claritas via PolicyMap.com.

The three other North Evanston tracts near the North Branch have even higher income levels — ranging from $105,530 in tract 8089 to $123,905 in tract 8088.

The South Branch library’s tract, 8099, has the highest median income of any tract in the southern half of town at $93,519.

Across Evanston as a whole the median income is $64,408.

The median household income in the downtown library’s census tract is $46,235, substantially below the citywide median.

Branch debate status

In it’s latest vote on the branches, the City Council opted to keep them running on a reduced schedule for six months to see if branch library supporters can come up with private support to make them self-sustaining. That reversed an earlier vote to close the branches immediately.

The Library Board is expected to get an update on those fundraising efforts when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the main library downtown.

The City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Civic Center at which it may take a final vote on the budget designed to close a $9.5 million gap in the city’s spending plans.

Petition drives

Branch library supporters have been conducting an online petition drive for a couple of months now at BranchLove.org.

Within the past few days, residents who favor closing the branches as part of the solution to the city’s budget crisis have started their own petition drive.

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