EPL board votes to keep North Branch, create new position

Kimberly Railey

After engaging in an occasionally spirited debate, the Evanston Public Library board voted Wednesday to continue funding for the North Branch and hire a community engagement librarian.

Using their fiscal autonomy under the library fund model, members voted 5-3 to raise the library property tax levy by over 6 percent.

“This library system has been starved for years,” said board member Michael Tannen, who voted in favor of the passed proposal. “Community engagement occurs in library spaces. Closing down the North Branch would be the ultimate act of civic disengagement.”

Board member Margaret Lurie, who also voted in the majority, said the North Branch serves as an “economic engine” for the surrounding community, unlike the South Branch, which members decided to close earlier this year.

“For the area on Central Street, they are really dependent on that library,” Lurie said.

The members’ decision, dubbed “Option A,” was considered in conjunction with two other proposals.

One budget plan, deemed the “base budget,” would have kept the North Branch open without developing a community engagement librarian position, increasing the tax levy by almost 4 percent. Another plan, “Option B,” would have closed the North Branch and hired the new librarian, a near 1 percent tax levy hike.

Some board members felt continued funding of the North Branch would only widen the disparity in the quality of library services for Evanston citizens.

“We’re putting money into the wealthiest part of town,” said board President Sharon Arceneaux, referring to the effects of Option A and the base budget. “I feel strongly that if service is going to be equitable, the North Branch needs to close.”

Evanston resident Michele Hays, who lives on the city’s southeast side, said terminating funding for the North Branch would have been most practical, though she was not surprised by the outcome.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding that if you have so much money to go around and if you have a small, very expensive library serving only part of the community, it would follow that it’s effectively taking money away from the rest of the community,” Hays said.

In selecting a budget, the board lacked a permanent library director who would normally provide input in its deliberations. Donna Dziedzic, former executive director of the Naperville Public Library, is currently serving as interim director.

“The dollar amount (of the budget) is very important, but what the library does with those dollars is most important,” Dziedzic said. “With the plan to use a guide, the library should be able to move forward.”

Acknowledging the tense discussion members had, Dziedwic said it was “fabulous” to see board members embrace their roles.

“It’s very evident this board is tremendously passionate about providing service to the entire community,” she said. “They’ve had to work through a number of very hard decisions.”

[email protected]