Library Board Votes Down Interim South Branch

There will be no interim South Branch library in 2011, after the Evanston Library Board of Trustees voted down a motion to approve funding for that location by a 2-4 vote.

Any remaining chance for an interim South Branch library died Wednesday evening, when the Evanston Library Board of Trustees voted down a motion to approve funding for that location by a 2-4 vote.

The sole agenda of the night’s was to consider allocations for neighborhood services in the 2011 fiscal year (March 1-Dec. 31), but when it came time to appropriate the $60,679 necessary to staff and rewire the proposed interim South Branch outpost, the proposition failed.

Board President Christopher Stewart said that the money simply isn’t there to justify maintaining a South Branch location, especially during a year in which the library will transition to a new funding model.

“We are now going to be responsible for setting [the library’s tax] levy and we have to be very prudent with that responsibility,” Stewart said. “We have told citizens of Evanston in our forums … that we will look at core, primary needs. … I do not feel that without a planning process that we have undertaken, that we should be making any short-term decisions … So, I cannot support funding of the South Outpost.”

Wednesday’s vote was the final blow in a several-month-long drama surrounding the South Branch library. In November, the board revealed that after a 76-year stay at its current location, and when , its neighborhood allocations were insufficient to fully support the North Branch, let alone fund a southern division.

But renewed hope sprung forth from the Jan. 19 trustee meeting, when  donated by the Evanston Public Library Friends to support an interim branch for the 10-month FY2011. Under the proposed agreement, the Friends would rent a storefront at 900 Chicago Ave. to the library for $1 a year.

Even with a near-to-nothing rent, though, the board would be responsible for staffing and other operational costs at the interim location, and after all the numbers were crunched, the math just didn’t add up.

Possible funding scenarios laid forth at Wednesday’s meeting called for additional Friend’s fundraising efforts, delayed opening of the South Branch, reduction of services at both branch locations, and the use of book sale and endowment funds to help cover the near $96,000 the library needed to legitimize the proposal.

Board member Susan Stone said it would be irresponsible for the board to overspend while changing its funding model.

“I just don’t think in good conscience, if and when we levy a tax, we can say to the voters of Evanston, well we’re levying more taxes and we’re also spending more than we have,” Stone said. “I’d like to prioritize the use of money from the book sale, from the endowment, [to] go to the Main Library.”

Other trustees voted against the proposal in an attempt to establish geographic equity across Evanston.

“The people over in the 5th and 2nd Ward do not have [a branch library],” said board member Sharon Arceneaux, “and when I see neighborhood services [in those areas], those are kind of like the crumbs that are going to be thrown over there to kind of keep somebody quiet. And the people over in that area...don’t have friends to raise money specifically to keep a branch open over there.”

Gaily Bush, one of two “yea” votes, argued that the board has the responsibility to maintain continuity of service.

Susan Newman, the other board member to approve the measure, said the board had become afraid instead of looking forward, arguing that an interim branch location could allow the board to experiment with new kinds of programs.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to look at new ways of serving,” Newman said. “It can be like our laboratory for what the future will look like. And it’s rent free. It will be an opportunity to train staff in a new way of delivering [service] and train our community in new ways of getting books.”

Board member Mildred Harris said she was leery of the constant fundraising efforts that such experiments might require.

Throughout the meeting, several board members spoke on a possible return “option one,” a reference to a previously suggested plan to set up a south side storefront and book depository run by the Friends, with the goal of integrating library services into that location. The Friends have already rented the proposed interim space, hired an architect who and at the Feb.16 board meeting, Friends members said construction would proceed with or without board approval.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Stewart said the FY2012 budget would likely be presented at the July or August board meeting

The next Evanston Library Board of Trustees meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on March 16.

liz February 25, 2011 at 09:13 PM
My kids say "thanks alot". It is the only truely kid friendly place we can walk to, and can also afford. If this were a North Evanston issue, it would have a very different outcome, I am sure. So again, THANKS A LOT for ruining a good thing.
Lori Keenan February 25, 2011 at 10:52 PM
This is an ALL of Evanston issue. It's a question of priorities -- the Library Board is charged with providing the best service to the greatest number of people. Having EPLF pay the rent would have made continuation of SB a natural. In fact, according to Kevin O'Conner's comment above, the same night that the Library Board was saying NO to continuing library services, the City of Evanston's Economic Development meeting was granting nearly $42,000 in awnings/facades for private businesses across town. Let your alderman and your Mayor know how you feel, and tell them you value libraries. Write to the Library Board and share your sentiments, have your kids do the same. It's important and everyone should have a voice.
cheryl chamberlain February 25, 2011 at 11:05 PM
The South Branch might be closing -- but The Outpost is opening!! The Library Board seemed to be a bit short-sighted with respect to their mission, but EPL Friends wasted NO time moving forward. The Board vote was Wednesday night, and the very next morning we started moving forward with getting the new space cleaned up. The Outpost is only a block south, Liz, at 900 Chicago, adjacent to Subway. We are bringing in computers, books, magazines, TONS of stuff for kids! It will be staffed by moms and dads volunteering their ideas, time and energy to make sure that it is a fun, friendly and warm place where everyone is welcome -- ESPECIALLY THE KIDS! I hope you come and hang out with us -- and bring your ideas -- we are always looking for good ones!
Frances R. Seidman March 16, 2011 at 01:05 AM
It would be very interesting to look into all the many ways that the Evanston City Council has frittered away money over the years, and also to speculate why the branch libraries have always been a target, even though they have not been the city's biggest expense by any means. Responsible, involved citizens have testified repeatedly about the importance of the libraries, and the many ways in which they are used by community residents and facilities, but it has been like talking to a blank wall. Some very dubious maneuvers have been used to undercut planning that might have produced positive results. One can only wonder--or maybe call 311 for answers. .
Kit Sullivan March 16, 2011 at 03:36 PM
Also interesting is that the much-maligned Mayor Daley has opened many branch libraries in Chicago during his tenure even though the city is "broke". It seems there is always money to fund literacy. I guess the Evanston bureaucrats have sent out a clear signal to potential residents - go south, where there are plenty of libraries!


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