Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

32° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Branch Out Into West Evanston

Almost every year for the past five years, aldermen have considered closing Evanston’s branch libraries to balance the city budget. Each time the Evanston City Council has, after much debate, been able to find the money elsewhere, and the North and South branches have scraped by.

But the city is again somewhere between $2.5 million and $4 million in debt, and it no longer seems conscionable to keep open both branches when they are so scarcely frequented.

According to a report by Neal Ney, director of the Evanston Public Library, to the council, the South Branch, located at 949 Chicago Ave., draws only about 50,000 visits a year. The North Branch, 2026 Central St., draws about 68,000, compared to the more than 544,000 visits drawn by the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.

The branches are all within about three miles of each other.

The proposed city budget suggests closing both the North and South branches and funding new positions at the Orrington location, including a full-time teen librarian and a part-time children’s services assistant.

Opponents of this plan are right to assert how important libraries are to inspire and keep children’s interest in learning. A recent study by the Urban Libraries Council, an Evanston-based collaboration of North American libraries, shows that libraries are the “most efficient public investments” because they give back to the community through improving literacy and providing job research tools.

But the current arrangement clearly has not been efficient, as it serves very few people.

A superior alternative would be to close at least one of the branches and instead open a branch in west Evanston.

For the past year, the City Council has been looking to enhance its youth program, particularly on the west side. The area suffers from crime and gang activity and lacks social institutions for youth. A branch library would better serve the west Evanston community, providing a place for teenagers to go and also serving as a home for other youth programs.

It would be a crucial step toward improving services for a less affluent population. The median family income for Evanston’s west side is about $50,000.

Compare that to the area around the North Branch, the most affluent area of Evanston, which boasts a median family income of about $130,000. Incomes are only slightly lower around the Main Library and the South Branch, with the median still clearing $100,000. These are not the communities that would benefit the most from a branch library.

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) has long been calling to open a branch on the west side. In February 2005, he objected to plans to renovate the children’s library in the Main Library, saying that the money should go to a west side branch instead.

The city had a West Branch in the past. It opened in 1975 at 1715 Simpson St., only to be closed within six years because it drew too few residents.

Denia Hester, who was the manager of the library, said she believed the branch could have been more successful if it had been in a busier location and had more time to establish itself. She did note that despite the library not attracting many adults, it was successful in attracting children.

A second attempt can succeed if the City Council focuses its youth efforts there. The city will not save as much money as it would if the branch libraries were closed altogether, but it will be worth investing in a community that has for too long been only an afterthought.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Branch Out Into West Evanston