Evanston Public Library to close branches on Chicago Ave. and Central St.

The+board+voted+Wednesday+to+close+two+of+its+older+branches.+

Catherine Buchaenic/Daily Senior Staffer

The board voted Wednesday to close two of its older branches.

Sneha Dey, Summer Managing Editor

Evanston Public Library will close the Chicago Ave./Main St. Branch and the North Branch by the end of year. The library’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted for a closure in an effort to redirect the library’s limited resources to underserved parts of the city.

The library is facing budget constraints due to the coronavirus pandemic, but will redistribute finances to the new branch at the Robert Crown Community Center, which serves the historically underserved 5th Ward. The Racial Equity Task Force made the recommendation to close as a step towards equity.

Prior to the opening of the Robert Crown library branch, residents in 5th Ward never had a library in such close proximity. The older branches on Chicago Ave. and Central Ave. are located in more affluent, predominantly white wards.

Growing up, lifelong 5th Ward resident Linnea Latimer would walk to the North Branch every day after school. She recognized the community the North Branch helped build for her and so many others. But at night, she would have to walk home alone a mile and a half again. Her friends didn’t have to make the trek — they were already home.

“I hate that this conversation might cause division… That’s the opposite of what we want. What we want is the opportunity to work with everybody and come up with the solution that suits all of us. Not just one ward,” Latimer, who is also a member of the library’s Racial Equity Task Force, said. “We all love the library. That’s clear to us.”

At public comment, several community members pled the board to keep the older branches open and further explore financial solutions like community fundraising. The Southeast Evanston Association and Central Street Neighbors Association also advocated for their branches in letters to the trustees.

Board of Trustees president Shawn Iles said the library works to increase donations and grants, but those funds are not nearly enough to sustain branches in every resource. Although branch closures are painful, he said reallocating resources is necessary and long overdue.

“I’d like you to consider how many times a few dozen, well-meaning, liberal-minded, white people have written letters to get what they want for their neighborhood and their children to the detriment of black and brown residents,” Iles said.

Trustee Margaret Lurie recommended the board rethink the structure of the library and move away from a branch-based model.

A few miles away, the Skokie Public Library gets far more funds and yet only has one facility. Skokie’s library does have a book mobile, which Lurie asked the library to consider looking at as a model.

Thirty-nine years ago, the library closed its West Branch. Denia Hester, a member of the Board of Trustees, remembers telling kids in the neighborhood to visit her at the downtown location. “I never saw those kids again,” Hester said.

Ultimately, even Hester voted to close the branches.

“I am willing to try something different and not look at these things as losses but an opportunity to rethink everything we’re doing,” Hester said. “If I can manage to do that, I hope people will be behind me. We all want the same thing. We’re just talking about different ways to have it.”

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Twitter: @snehadey_

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