Trustees say keep library open despite lack of funds

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Evanston Public Library trustees voiced their concern Wednesday night about a proposal to close the South Branch Library and expressed surprised that Evanston residents have not chimed in as well.

“I’m not seeing the kind of level of community activity that we saw last year,” said Library Director Neal Ney. “People are not as attuned to the problem.”

With the city facing a $3.5 million deficit in the 2003-04 proposed budget, City Manager Roger Crum attempted to disperse the burden throughout the city’s departments. Among the proposed cuts for the library are the South Branch’s closing and reduced hours at the Main Library.

“I think people are seriously thinking, ‘Well, we’re going to have to cut something,'” said Library Trustee Judith Rosenthal.

Ney, who attended Saturday’s budget workshop, said he was unable to interpret most of the aldermen’s response to the cuts. However, he reported to the trustees that Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) was not in favor of closing the South Branch.

Some aldermen proposed closing the North Branch Library, along with the South Branch. Ney said they asked him to prepare a report discussing the financial and logistical repercussions of closing both branches.

“I’m not entirely certain how to read that,” he said.

Many trustees said they didn’t support closing the South Branch, let alone the North Branch.

“Evanston libraries are underfunded compared to other libraries,” said John Sagan, president of the library board. “(The council) shouldn’t cut anything. We’re just too far behind.”

Sagan said he thinks closing the North Branch also would cause an uproar.

“If they try to link (the South Branch) to the North Branch, then they’ll have a firestorm,” he said. “It’s very difficult for aldermen to say that for $125,000, ‘I was the one who closed the branch.'”

The trustees speculated that many residents have not been aware of the possible library closures because the budget was only presented to the public last week. Nonetheless, they said they hope residents will come to the aid of the branches.

Last year, the budget proposed cutting both branches. Many residents protested the cuts, which were eventually dropped.

Even after last year’s events, Stephen Prout, vice president of the board, said the aldermen still might close both branches.

Some of the trustees said they were concerned that residents who use the branch libraries might not drive to the Main Library.

“If the South Branch closes, we’re assuming everyone will come to the Main (Library),” Library Trustee Junko Yokota said. “(But) if the North Branch closes, I assume (residents) wouldn’t come.”

Some of the trustees plan to attend the Feb. 3 public hearing on the budget, which will be hosted by the council. Sagan said he will make a statement at the meeting.

Freddi Greenberg, who lives within walking distance of the South Branch Library and uses it at least once a week, said she feels a real sense of community when she visits the branch.

“The neighborhood public library is an important part of our community,” she said. “The library is beneficial to people of all ages.”