As Evanston once again finds ourselves at budget time considering the closing of the branch libraries, I feel like I’ve somehow wandered on to the set of Saturday Night Live’s REALLY?! skit with Seth Rogen and Amy Poehler.

As Evanston once again finds ourselves at budget time considering the closing of the branch libraries, I feel like I’ve somehow wandered on to the set of Saturday Night Live’s REALLY?! skit with Seth Rogen and Amy Poehler.

I mean, seriously, can we really be talking about this again? In the ten years my family’s lived in Evanston, we’ve come up against this issue time and again. With the budget deficit and pension shortfalls now reaching tens of millions of dollars, could we really be talking about closing libraries as a solution? Really?

The branch libraries are critical to the neighborhoods they serve, particularly in light of the recent economy. The meager savings provided by closing the branches would hardly offset the hardships which their closings would mean to the community. In fact, Libraries and Information Science News says libraries are a vital community resource in the information age, and outlines what libraries can do for a community in an economic downturn:

Data about library use in an economic downturn provides another important example of how libraries adapt to serve their communities and the value patrons place on library services. A University of Illinois study from 2002 examined public library circulation at monthly intervals between 1997 and 2001 for 18 library systems serving populations of 1 million or more. The study found that circulation increased significantly after March 2001, when the National Bureau of Economic Research marked the start of the last recession. Circulation in March was 8.3 percent higher than would be expected from the trend observed since January 1997.

In the current economic downturn there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that libraries are serving a similar role for patrons today.

Evanston’s branch libraries are a unique resource, able to stimulate the minds of the neighbors, as well as the local economy for neighboring businesses.

Access to computers, technology, newspapers and books should be available to everyone, and the illustrious main branch cannot serve the needs of those who do not have easy access to downtown, including children, disabled and elderly patrons without transportation — especially those with an interest in being ‘green.’

My kids are now 8, 12 and 14, and amazingly, they will still walk with me to the North Branch to…wait for it: check out books. To read!

It’s wonderful to have a destination which doesn’t require money in your pocket, or a trip in the car to simply go and foster a love of learning. I’m proud to live in a community that supports those efforts as important, and would be ashamed to think that other priorities could ever take precedence. Really.

Lori Keenan is a public relations professional who lives at 2214 Colfax St., less than a half mile from the north branch library.

Join the Conversation


  1. Branch Closing
    No one says we don’t need libraries. The issue is cost and need. You live ½ mile from the library so you are happy. The north and south branches are close to the CTA trains and on bus routes—beside in a nation of overweight people a mile or mile and a half should not be too big of a walk or bike. People in the north could also go to Wilmette in—in fact in a pinch I go there instead of even thinking of the north branch as do many others I know. If you want branches and service to the community, what about one on the west side that does not have as good transportation and the poor, falling behind students can probably use a branch more—or is it only the middle/upper class areas that need one ? Folksy stores may make some people feel ‘warm’ but what about reality. Everyone would like everything but that is not possible. If people want branches, what do they want to give up to keep them ?

  2. Libraries and Seniors
    It has always struck me as odd that proposals to close the branches always invoke senior citizens.
    Where were the branch supporters when the Senior Center was moved from downtown to the fringe of the city ? How is it seniors can make it there but not downtown ?
    Are we really hearing from the pampered “me” generation who think everything is a birth-right and every convience should be given them—like not having to walk or take the bus to downtown [probably not just for the library but for shopping and other things]. What are the odds they think nothing of DRIVING to the shopping centers at the drop of the hat ? Will they bus, drive or walk to the Senior Center when old enough or demand one within 1/2 mile ?

    1. I know for a fact seniors who
      I know for a fact seniors who walk to the North Branch daily to read the paper or access computers. So, since the Senior Center moved out of their reach, should we now move the libraries too?

  3. Branch Libraries
    Lori – Some history behind the branch library issue concerns the building of the downtown library. For the magnificent downtown library to receive approval to be built, an agreement was made that the branch libraries be closed upon its completion. Longtime residents are aware of the agreement and that is why the topic continually crops up during the budget shortfall discussions.

    1. Interesting. I was at all
      Interesting. I was at all the meetings when the new library downtown was being proposed and I remember it differently. When we were told how much a new library would cost, there was the assurance that this would NOT effect the branches, which would continue to operate.

      1. As a longtime Evanston
        As a longtime Evanston resident, I am surprised to hear there was an agreement to close the branches upon completion on the new library. I have never heard that. In fact, I went to the meetings when the new building was being proposed because i was concerned about the branches. When the citizens questions how the city could spend many millions to build a new library and manintain branch libraries, the then dirctor, Mr Ney, said that building a new library would not necessitate the closing of the branches. He said the plan was to keep the branches open and have a new library.
        I have always maintained, and especially after reading everyone comments, that what we need is a third branch to serve South West Evanston. It seems that the branches do a fine job of serving their communities and that it is the Main library with its inconvenient location that is the money pit. I am lucky to live by and patronize two libraries: North Branch and Wilmette Public Library where many of my neighbors go and enjoy full services.
        The reason this comes up with every budget discussion, is simply because the library is on the city budget. In other communites like Wilmette the library is on a separate budget. There is a movement here to do this in Evanston by creating a separate Library District, which would not cost the tax payers much and free the library from other budget short falls.

        1. inconvenient for whom? not Who.
          ” It seems that the branches do a fine job of serving their communities and that it is the Main library with its inconvenient location that is the money pit.”

          How is it inconvenient for the library to be downtown? It is not to far from the Davis stations, near some bus routes, and there is parking next to and underneath the building. You can also go to Whole Foods or Peet’s while you are there.

        2. Inconvenient location? Seriously?
          I’m not sure how much better a location the library could have. Close to both trains and the bus line. Lots of inexpensive parking nearby (some even under the building). Near many shops to run errands and places to grab a bite to eat. As a long term Evanston resident who has rarely stepped foot in a branch library (even though they are closer) because the main library is so much nicer, I don’t understand the fuss about closing the branches. They are a “luxury” we can’t afford!

  4. West side branch libary
    Let’s do the equal thing—all or nothing. Either find money to serve the west side of Evanston with a branch library, too, or close the North and South branches. I wonder what the branch system has meant to west side residents all these years? No matter which library they choose, they need transportation to get there.

    1. Entirely Agree
      I completely agree with your sentiment. West and southwest side residents are always completely overlooked until it comes time to foist something off on their neighborhood that the NIMBY crowd repudiates.

      1. Amen — We in South Evanston are Second Class Citizens
        I do not know why the library on Chicago Avenue is called the South Branch. Sure, there’s a north branch and this branch is south of Dempster. But please allow me to direct your attention to a map of Evanston. That library is in the eastern part of town. There is a lot of Evanston south of Main Street. That branch library is not south. It is east.

        You name it — police protection, schools, low-incoming housing, snow removal, city festivals in the parks. South Evanston gets the short end of the stick every single time.

        Now, if the City wants to build an enormous salt shed or wants to place an overabundance of subsidized housing, South Evanston is at the top of the list.

        I sense that many residents of South Evanston are really tired of this second-class status and are starting to insist on a change.

        1. West of Green Bay
          Lori Keenan says
          “Evanston’s branch libraries are a unique resource, able to stimulate the minds of the neighbors..”

          Really? The branch libraries are able to stimulate the minds of the neighbors? Where is the evidence of that? I don’t think that the minds of the Central Street Neighbors have been stimulated very often.

          Anonymous says:
          “I do not know why the library on Chicago Avenue is called the South Branch. Sure, there’s a north branch and this branch is south of Dempster. But please allow me to direct your attention to a map of Evanston. That library is in the eastern part of town. There is a lot of Evanston south of Main Street. That branch library is not south. It is east.

          The Library’s website says that there was once a “West” Branch…which was located at 1715 Simpson. It operated from 1975 until 1981, when it was closed – with low circulation being cited as the reason for closing. It was also very close to the North Branch (and, in fact, the ‘west’ branch was east of the ‘north’ branch)….and nowhere near the southwestern corner of Evanston.

          It seems that if we wanted branch libraries to reach those who are not able to get to the Main Library, a branch near Robert Crown would be a better place than the current two locations.

  5. Special assessment
    Perhaps all those in favor of retaining branch libraries should submit their names to the city so that they may be levied a special annual tax assessment to pay for the cost of their operations.

  6. Everyone wants everything in 1/2 mile
    Sign me up ! I want a McDonalds, KFC, IHOP, mens shoe store, Sears [Oh I forgot the city killed that], a health club [instead of taking CTA to Howard], an NU branch campus, all 1/2 mile from my house. Why should I have to walk/bike [I got rid of my car 15 years ago since not needed in Evanston] over a mile [each way] to NU or downtown every day when others want everything in 1/2 mile from them [how many times a week do they actually go to the north/south branch ?]
    If these people put such areas in each of the quadrants of Evanston, we won’t even need a Main library or maybe even a downtown.

    1. Sears?
      How did the City “kill” the proposed Sears downtown?

      Many moons ago there was a plan to have a Sears store be the anchor tenant in what now is Sherman Plaza. Someone else will have to fill in the details of how the idea faded.
      — Bill

      Reply: Oh, yes. I knew of the plan to have Sears anchor Sherman Plaza, as well as the millions our Council voted to give them just to open up.

      I’d just like to know just how the City was responsible for Sears backing out of the talks to anchor the Plaza at a time when Sears was retrenching nationwide. Maybe it was the money we offered them? Anonymous?

      In other words, Bill, I think Anonymous is blowing swamp gas. I could be wrong, and Anonymous has some juicy untold story. But I doubt it.

  7. Critical to the neighborhoods they serve? REALLY?
    “The branch libraries are critical to the neighborhoods they serve.” Really? I feel like I wandered on to the set of “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”

    The communities the North and East branch libraries serve are two of the most affluent communities in the city. Census data shows the median income of the East branch community is more than 50% the city as a whole while your North branch community is more than 60% higher. Meanwhile 1 in 50 Evanston residents receive public assistance, but only 1 in 250 people in those communities do. How about a sense of perspective? Or, better still, how about building a West and South branch in actual South Evanston, 1/2 mile from people who need it, not 1/2 mile from the lakefront?

    I’d rather preserve services for people that depend on them, not rich stay-at-home mommies. Instead of sharing in the sacrifice you want to shift all the burden on to those truly in need (cutting services other than yours), the city staff (cutting jobs), or all of us (raising my taxes to keep your library open).

    1. Wow. Snark city. I don’t
      Wow. Snark city. I don’t think that the Illinois study was a study of ‘rich stay at home mommies,’ I think it was a study of library use in an economic downturn.

  8. Library Branches
    A comment above: “People in the north could also go to Wilmette in—in fact in a pinch I go there instead of even thinking of the north branch as do many others I know.”

    Yes, it’s true, north end patrons may go to Wilmette, but then they just a well might run their errands there, too. Hey, there’s a hardware store, bakeries, gift shops, restaurants, and more. Shops in the Central Street area will suffer as will tax revenues for the city. The Main Street merchants will suffer, too, if patrons who use the South Branch take their library business to the shops and services near the downtown branch. The city may well shoot itself in the foot with branch shutdowns. To save the small, annual operating cost involved ($400,000),and given the increased usage in both branches and the valuable services provided (especially during economic tough times), I think it’s a foolish move to close branches. I do support opening a Dodge/Dempster area west branch. What we really need is to separate the Library from the city budget and create a taxing body of its own.

  9. Branch Libraries Not Economic
    Yes, branch libraries satisfy the needs of those few citizens who make use of them. But what about the duplication of resources? Why do we need to buy additional copies of books, especially expensive Reference materials, to stock branch libraries? At a time when the library is already having to reduce the number of materials purchased, wouldn’t it be better to allow the Main library to have all the funds now allocated to the branches? How much additional time and resources are required to send items between the Main building and the branches? There are additional costs beyond staff and services to the branches that aren’t accounted for. The branches have outlived their usefulness. I’m sorry for the library neighbors but there aren’t enough of them to make it worthwhile to keep the branches.

  10. Close them!
    Please, enough already. This City is facing an $8 million dollar deficit in fiscal year 2010. Please, City Council, show some courage and close the branch libraries once and for all which will result in saving $400,000-$500,000 in annual operating expenses.

  11. As a frequent patron of the
    As a frequent patron of the South Branch of the library, I feel that it is a necessary part of the community it serves. I can’t speak for the North Branch since that is not in my neighborhood. The staff at the South Branch are amazing and this library is a hidden gem. My daughter and I find it more accessible and often more friendly than the main branch. I disagree with closing a library as a viable solution to cutting costs in such a well-educated and diverse community. Access to the internet and resources is necessary to all members of our community. As to the location of the “South Branch” it is 90 years old. I don’t think that there is an intended inequity in its location; just a fact of where the population was 90 years ago. Someone can correct my Evanston history on that one if they know differently. If more citizens stepped in to the South Branch to see all that it offers to the community, I think more people would agree that closing it would be a terrible decision.

    1. “Hidden gem” indeed
      I think you hit the nail on the head–I don’t believe it serves the city… just those who live nearby. Parking hassles, a non-ADA compliant building, and a limited “audience” are all reasons to shut it down.

      On a different note, how much tax revenue would the city receive if the north branch were sold and converted to a cafe/bookstore?

  12. Close branches, bring back bookmobile!
    If we really want to serve the under-served, get rid of the major hurdle for them… Bring the library to them! That way, everyone can have a library within 1/2 mile of their homes.

    Set a weekly schedule: 1 day in Elks Park (SE), 1 day in James Park/Levy Center (SW), 1 day in Mason Park (W), 1 day at Robert Crown (S), 1 day at Independance Park (NW), 1 day at Elliott Park (E), with 1 day out of service for restocking. (or develop a schedule that meets the needs of the entire city, not just those fortunate enough to live within a block or two of the branch libraries.)

    Books can be reserved via telephone or internet. Laptops with wi-fi internet connections and reading programs can be offered in the comfort of a large, confortable motorhome or trailer.

    Seems like a way to get more bang for your buck…

    1. Yes, The Bookmobile!
      A wonderful idea! I loved it as a child and would be delighted for my family to experience it. The wi-fi/laptops concept is great, too, if there would be room.

      1. Bookmobile
        My husband, who grew up in Evanston, also speaks with fond remembrance of the bookmobile. Every time the idea of closing the branch libraries arises, he says we ought to bring back the bookmobile.

  13. Sell North Branch Building/ Relocate South Branch?
    Circulation records for both branches should be obtained and evaluated as indicators of use and a determination to keep the branches in their respective locations should be made primarily on that basis. Once that determination is made, consider the following:

    The City currently owns the building housing the North Branch library. If the City were to sell the building (which also includes a Central Street store as a leasehold tenant) and make as a condition of sale a lease w/ the City for continued library or other public use, the financial gain from the sale would potentially more than offset the costs of keeping a branch library at this location. Said proposed lease w/ the City would actually heighten the value of the property if the building were to be put on the market.

    As for the South Branch library(currently located in a building whereby the City is the tenant), a determination should be made as to whether this is the best location for serving the part of town where circulation could be maximized. If it is determined that it is not, it is highly likely that existing property owners in any of the south and west side commercial/ mixed use areas would be clamoring for a lease for library branch operations with the City.

  14. Trade-off for the Library
    Since the pro-branch people are suddenly concerned about the seniors [a convienent new found passion] maybe the trade-off for keeping them open is to close the Central, South Blvd. and Dempster beaches.
    For those who claim the branches are a cultural and educational use, what are the percent of books checked out that meet that category ? I have nothing against pleasure reading but do we need the branches for that ?
    I guess we will see if the Council has any backbone left or just sways with the WASP community. It would be interesting to see if the south [aka east] and north branch supporters would revert to their NIMBY ways if a library was constructed in those locations today or if they would complain about noise, trash pollution and do a one year study on whether it can be kept a nuclear free zone. If they are so in favor of education, perhaps parts of the Research Park can locate near the branches.

  15. Library closings is a red herring to the much bigger picture
    It’s my understanding that closing a branch library would save about $200,000, maybe a little more.

    The bigger picture is that laying off employees in various city departments would save the city a whole lot more money. And that’s where the focus should be.

    Closing branch libraries is small potatoes that would merely put a dent in the city budget gap.

    City officials need to begin serious layoffs in various city departments in order to make any impact on balancing the $8 million budget gap – employees are the biggest cost in the budget. Every corporate organization trying to survive today is looking at cutting staff and how to be more efficient.

    The city needs to do the same.

    I wonder how that will happen when all city employees are in the union and their president happens to be sitting on the Evanston budget advisory committee, which will make budget recommendations. That union president was APPOINTED by Mayor Tisdahl – a newly elected mayor that got the wholesale support of the Democrat party.

    1. The Bigger Picture
      Missing in all of this discussion about solving the $8 million budget gap is the bigger problem. This is a problem only concerning the coming budget — what about the next year and the year after that and…

      This is all a band-aid and ignores the festering sore of the coming years.

      What about the pension fund fiasco?

      What about future revenues if the real estate market stays fetid?

      What about built-in pay raises?

      Infrastructure needs due to Deferred Maintenance Syndrome?

      Get the picture?

      When are we going to see 5 and 10 year budget projections. REAL budget projections without the dithering evident in the pension fiasco. The City was sued and they dithered. Wasn’t the legal action a 2×4 to the head?

      Let us get real.

    2. Closing branches IS laying off city staff!
      Small potatoes or not, you seem to be in favor of generic cuts which somehow don’t affect the level of services provided by the city. Guess what, you can’t have it both ways.

      Union bashing aside, what services are you willing to do without? Or should the city continue trying to be all things to all people with no budget restraint?

  16. Hard decisions must be made but don’t hold your breath
    Jason Hays,

    Let’s start with a 10 percent layoff in EACH city department. That means some city employees will lose their jobs and those that still have a job will have to take on more responsibilities.

    Anyone who is employed in the private sector – MOST EVANSTONIANS ARE – know how that works. Laying off city employees should not be a question of less services but a question of more efficiency – do more for less.

    Is there any concern that NOT ONE UNION CITY EMPLOYEE HAS BEEN LAID OFF SINCE THE RECESSION BEGAN!!!! Is anyone outraged that union employees keep getting annual cost of living wage increases during a severe Recession, which we are still in?

    Meanwhile, over the same amount of time, our property tax rates have increased as our property values have declined, and our budget deficit has ballooned to $8 million.

    Closing the library branches will not come close to solving the $8 million budget gap. Laying off enough current city employees would.

    But again, every single alderperson, the mayor and probably everyone on the budget advisory committee are registered Democrats. As we know, the unions, including the one our city employees are a member of, wholly support the Democrats.

    That’s why we have the union president of OUR CITY EMPLOYEES on the budget advisory committee.

    And that’s why I predict few if any union city employees will be laid off, and that city officials will raise taxes again and pass off the remaining budget problems to be solved at a future date.

    If you’re an Evanston property owner, and you don’t like the continued increase in property tax rates as your property values decline, and you earn and sweat out your living in the private sector, you have only our city and school officials, and the Democratic party to blame.

    In my opinion, those hard-working taxpayers can quietly sit back and take it or they can do something about it – write, email or call your elected officials, join the Republican party, or run for office in the next term. As long as Democrats rule this city, the unions will have their way with lush contracts, pensions and guaranteed jobs and raises.

    The only growth industry in this Recession is government. That is a sad and alarming fact.

    1. May be time to do less with less
      “Closing the library branches will not come close to solving the $8 million budget gap. Laying off enough current city employees would.”

      Anonymous Al — I am not certain of your point in raising it like that. You want to have each City department lay off 10% of their staff. You also seem to be indicating that closing the library branches will not aid in closing the budget gap. Don’t those employeess get counted as “current city employees” to be considered for being included in the cuts, as well?

      I think that the branch library staff have always been very helpful and courteous when I have used those sites. And I have found them to be a real convenience to be able to use either of them. But if they were not there I would use the Main Branch, as I already do when I am downtown. It seems like there is a bonus in closing the branches because the cost saved in reducing those staff is compounded by reducing the branches’ operating costs, as well.

      If we are going to have to make cuts in services that are provided to all of us, I think we should start by making cuts in services that are being provided to only some of us.

      Biblio Phil

  17. Reality
    Do branch libraries generate revenue or incur cost for the city?

    I would think they generate cost for the city only.

    We have an extraordinary facility in downtown Evanston that is literally 1-4 miles from each of the branch locations.

    Closing branches may not impact the shortfall by a lot, but then again, every little bit counts. If we used that ideology for everything, we will get nowhere.

  18. Every little bit helps
    One or more Comments have said savings from closing the branch libraries would not help much. In fact every little bit does help. As a Senator said “…a million here, a million there and soon you are talking real money.”
    Do environmentalists tell people changing to an energy saving bulb won’t help since it is such a small contribution ? No.
    We must look for every bit of waste in the budget or at some point big items will have to go, e.g. Main library, bankruptcy for the city so union contracts and pensions can be broken and new more reasonable ones established.
    As Al Gore says about the environment, do we want to wait until the city faces a disaster before we act ?

    The quote is more commonly rendered: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.” And it’s commonly attributed to the late U.S. Senator from Illinois, Everett McKinley Dirksen. But the Dirksen Center says he may never have actually said it.
    — Bill

  19. Unfortunate Decision To Be Made Public “First”
    My initial response to the closing of the library branches was outrage. I live within walking distance of the South Branch, and have never seen it empty during open hours. (And no, I’m not a rich-stay-at-home mom — in fact, I rent property because I can’t afford to buy in Evanston! Which doesn’t mean I’m not affected by tax increases, folks.)

    Reading through all of these comments though (and remembering the poll of Evanston residents in which I participated a few weeks back), I realize that there have to be very difficult decisions made if Evanston is going to do anything about its deficit.

    It’s extremely unfortunate that people who love having the local branches will lose this convenient access, and even more unfortunate that the closings mean that many very dedicated library staff will lose their jobs. Did you know that the Main Branch also laid off staff members (right before Christmas, thank you very much)? Where do laid-off librarians go to find new jobs? I guess they have to go to other towns, or schools. Dunno if there’s much of a librarian shortage.

    It’s a real shame that *this* is the issue we’re debating — and not very nicely — instead of something that doesn’t sound personal, or educational, or “luxurious.” In a time of economic downturn, it’s very hard to think that people may have a harder time gaining access to the free and low-cost services that all of the library branches provide.

    I wish instead I’d been reading about redundancies eliminated in ways that don’t sound personal. And that I didn’t just read about another manager being hired for the City.

    I wish Mayor Tisdahl and the Council lots of luck in the coming year. I hope they get it — because it will be good for all of us.

  20. Too Many Public Employees Retire at 55 and get $100,000
    From the National Taxpayers United of Illinois

    • Gold-plated pensions for retired local and state employees have created most of the current budget gap. Did you
    know that 3,597 former Illinois government employees receive over $100,000 per year in pensions? In addition,
    promised pension benefits are only about half-funded, sticking future taxpayers with even bigger bills.
    • By retiring at age 55 with a salary of $100,000 a year, the average Chicago suburban government high school
    teacher will receive more than $3 million in total pension income, plus free top-of-the-line health benefits.
    • Tapas K. Gupta, one of our state university retirees, receives a retirement pension of $390,716 a year—that’s
    $32,560 a month! See the list of Illinois Top 100 Government Pension Payouts for more lavish pension examples.
    Don’t let government pensions bankrupt our state
    • Require all new state and local government hires to save for their retirement with their own contributions to 401(k)
    programs. Then there will be no new unfunded government pension liabilities.
    • Increase the amount current government employees contribute to their pensions by 5%. This will reduce unfunded
    pension liabilities by $20 billion.
    • Require government employees to pay 3% of their payroll for retirement health benefits and $250 per month after
    retirement. Today, they pay nothing. This would save another $30 billion in unfunded health care liability.
    What you can do to stop Slippery Quinn
    • Contact your state representative and state senator and tell them to OPPOSE raising the state income tax and
    INCREASE the amount government employees contribute to their retirement plans. Call (217) 782-4141 or
    (312) 814-6440 if you need more information about contacting your state representative and state senator.
    • Copy and distribute this flyer to your friends, family, and online groups. An electronic version is available on the
    web at
    • Join the National Taxpayers United of Illinois and help fight future local and state government tax increases.

  21. My kids and I live in west
    My kids and I live in west evanston. I wish there was a library near to us for my family to use, but there isn’t. Sometimes we will travel to the main library, and park in the lot or take a bus.
    I don’t get why people don’t think that if there should be another branch, it should be west.
    The main is easy to get to from north and south branches. but people that pay the big property taxes I guess can’t be bothered to ride the el.

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