OPINION: A sorry spectacle unfolded at Saturday’s Evanston City Council budget workshop.

Adults brought out their children to testify in favor of perpetuating a long-standing injustice in our community.

The children, being children, spoke only of what they knew — that they’ve had a fine time at Evanston’s North Branch public library on Central Street.

It’s the parents who deserve the censure — for thinking only of preserving an unequal benefit for their kids — and not also calling for extending the branch library system to the city’s west side.

Look at this map showing where the north and south branch and main public libraries in Evanston are located.

[gmap |id=map |center=42.04393865639606, -87.70608901977539 |zoom=13 |width=480px |height=400px |control=Small |type=Map |markers=42.06369516045284,-87.70162582397461:North Branch + 42.03552434403621,-87.6793098449707:South Branch + 42.04852781169909,-87.68016815185547:Main Library]

Then look at this map showing how white different census tracts in Evanston were at the time of the 2000 census.

What a coincidence that the only two Evanston census tracts that have branch libraries are at least 87 percent white.

Oh, sure, when Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, pointed out the inequity, Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he “hopes the day will come” when the city has a west branch library.

Just what day would that be, Ald. Moran?

Yes, it’s not all about race. Branch libraries are largely an artifact of the 1920s, a time before most people had cars, and portions of west Evanston were still truck farms back then.

But it’s time for this foolishness to stop. Either find an extra $250,000 in the 2007-08 budget and set up a branch library on the west side this year, or shut them all down.

There are plenty of places a new branch could go — including any of several vacant storefronts in the Dempster-Dodge shopping center.

I suspect branch libraries have mostly outlived their usefulness and that the Central Street parents should pile their kids in the SUV and head for the main library.

But if those kids are going to have a walk-to library branch, the kids on the west side should have one too. Now!

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. Build a childrens’ library on the Westside -not a branch
    Bill – You should be more upset about the 2.4 million dollar screw up occurring in the downtown library.

    The library director claimed the reason he was renovating the main branch library’s childrens’ room was for the increasing miniority population. I do not see any miniority children in the downtown, frankly the city is using TIF funds to add extra police in the downtown, to keep things under control. (that is keep black youth out, although no one is saying that)

    I spoke at the council several times on this issue of a children library on the westside prior to this waste of 2.4 million downtown. What is interesting is the claim by the library director that children’s libraries need renovation every ten years – that was more of a cover up for the screw up they created ten years ago when they created the children’s area in the main library. By the way the branch libraries have not been renovated in over 30 years.

    The childrens’ room at the main building is going to be a flop. What was interesting at the meeting and you may not have heard it is when one speaker who is on the library board stated more residents in Evanston are borrowing books from Skokie and Wilmette than residents of those communities are borrowing from us. It is very interesting. This may speak “volumes” to the mismanagement of the Evanston library system!

    I very well understand building a childrens’ library on the west side of Evanston(not a branch library) will cost more than 2.4 million dollars but clearly all children including the white children would use it. It has been my opinion for years we have the money in the budget to do many things we just keep on misspending it. Do you think hiring a Youth Coordinator and spending $150,000 in the budget is going to do anything for miniority youth in Evanston? ( more the the same old political nonsense)

    By the way the city and library director eliminated the book mobile over ten years ago – it was visting the westside. The director in recent budget memos has claimed it would save $500,000 to close both branches – yet in the budget they are only listed at $350,000 get the idea he is not interested in who in this community actually gets services, but more interested in his organization.

    I am disappointed our council members lack the leadership to challenge this nonsense of the staff, it appears to me they just lack the vision to challenge the status quo.

    1. One step at a time
      Hi Junad,
      Thanks for your thoughts — but no fair trying to change the subject.
      The money is already being spent for the downtown library renovation, and soon we’ll be able to see how it turns out.
      And there’s no way — given current budget constraints — that a major new library facility is going to be approved anywhere in town this year.
      There are two equitable solutions here — no branches for anybody, or a reasonable distribution of branches for everybody. Do you favor one of those choices, or continuing the present inequitable system?

      Or — here’s another option — a special taxing district just for those neighborhoods that have branch libraries.
      If downtown residents can be taxed for extra downtown street cleaning, perhaps Central Street residents would pay a little extra in taxes to support their own little library?
      It may not be truly fair — because some neighborhoods are richer than others and more able to pay the extra tax — but at least we’d stop asking residents of the poorer parts of town to help pay for services that only benefit a richer neighborhood.

  2. additional comments on branch libraries
    Bill – I do not think building a small branch library on the westside is of any value to the children of the westside. It is not an issue of fairness to me but how to service the children of the community.

    The children section in the North Branch is about 500 square feet in space (my estimate) it is not a very desirable space for children or is it all that nice it is a dump. But the parents like it because it is in the neighborhoold. ( my children are in college so I have no children that use it, they used it years ago) Also from a budget prespective the dollars are a very tiny percent of the budget of the library system the director uses it each year for political purpose when the council wants cuts. I think people are growing tired of this political game.

    I would rather see the bookmoblie come back to service both the westside and southside than a branch library on the westside.Thus it might be able to also go to elementary schools. I am not trying to not answer your question I do not see this as all or none but what is the best use of resources. Bill the bookmoblie as I recall cost about $100,000 to operate they kill it because it needed replaced and the director could offer it up so to speak during the budget hearing – interestingly enough the employee was transfer to the main branch – this is also his plan if he closes the other branches the employees will be placed in the main branch. There are no real cost savings.

    I blame the council for this stupid renovation to the main library. I am not certain how far along it is – last I heard the city was not reviewing any drawings so I am confused as to what is actually going on now.
    I will check and get back to you.

    I am not all the concern about budget constraints on a 189 million dollar budget – yes we have issues – but we need to use the money wisely.
    I think you feel the renovation is a done deal – it was done very interestingly – that is they partial funded it this year and funded on donations – all this will be interesting once it over runs.

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