Proposed closure of South Branch upsets loyal library patrons

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Coco Yang, 4, wants to be a ballerina. Her mother, Chen Hai, wants to learn English.

Nearly every week the two walk several blocks to the South Branch Public Library.

Yang loves books about ballet, and Hai, who immigrated from China two years ago, frequents the English as a Second Language section.

“Because this library is near for me, if it will be closed, I feel it (is) not convenient,” Hai said.

The proposal to close the South Branch Library, part of the 2003-04 budget proposal, would save the city $133,000. But many residents said saving money isn’t worth losing resources.

“There’s always money for bricks and mortar, but not money for civilizing forces,” said DonaLe Blanc, an Evanston resident who uses the South Branch once or twice a week. “Money should be able to be found for this.”

Sally Schwarzlose, manager of the South Branch, said the library draws patrons from different ethnicities and socio-economic levels.

“South Evanston is a marvelous hodgepodge of everyone in the world,” she said.

Of the 50,000 people who would be affected by the closing, members of the Hispanic, Haitian and Caribbean communities would be especially impacted, said Eliezer Margolis, an Evanston resident whose psychological practice is within walking distance of the branch.

Many members who are not included in the 50,000 figure still use the library, Schwarzlose said. Also, according to Margolis, homeless people use the branch as shelter against harsh weather.

“(The branch serves) disenfranchised people, the people who need it the most,” Margolis said.

Under the proposal, the library would close Feb. 28, four days after the budget is approved. The five employees — one full-time and four part-time — would remain on the payroll through the end of April. The 25,000 volumes housed at the South Branch would be transferred to the other Evanston libraries, and the city would save about $45,000 in annual rent.

The city asked the library to cut more from its budget this year than in past years, Library Director Neal Ney said.

The alternative to closing the South Branch would be to reduce the number of books purchased or people employed, Ney said. The South Branch could be more easily reopened in the future than the North Branch because its space is rented instead of owned by the city.

But Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said he thinks it’s equitable if both the North and South Branches close because the number of people served is nearly equivalent.

“Somebody is going to get hurt,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”