Keep libraries to improve reading
Sent to the Chicago Tribune, June 20, 2009
Isaac Asimov wrote, "When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself."
The closure of branch public libraries in Evanston would be a tragedy, especially for an economically diverse city with 11% of the population below the poverty line ("Evanston to close library branches," Jan. 19).
Research shows that better public and school libraries are related to better reading achievement. The reason for this is obvious: Children become better readers by reading more, and for many children, the library is only place they have access to books.
We keep complaining about children's low reading achievement, and we keep preventing them from improving by closing libraries.
University of Southern California
Evanston to close library branches Chicago Tribune, Jan 19, 2009 By Brian Cox
At age 14, Teddy Keenan already is a veteran of one grass-roots campaign to save Evanston's two branch libraries and is gearing up for his second battle to keep them open.
With the branches once again on the chopping block to cut costs, the Haven Middle School student is ready to spring into action.
"I'm upset that after fighting so hard two years ago we have to do all this again," Keenan said. "This time it sounds like a lot more serious of a threat, and I've been working a lot harder on it."
The City Council is struggling to close a $9.5 million budget deficit and has had to consider some hard choices, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. The council is expected to vote on the budget in February.
The budget, he said, does not include a property tax increase. Instead, he has balanced the books through nearly two dozen layoffs and cutbacks, including the proposed closure of the branch libraries, which he said cost about $400,000 annually to operate.
"People are very passionate about their libraries," he said. "But at the end of the day we have a budget deficit we have to make up and we're trying to balance community resources the best we can."
Some have suggested the city raise money for the branches by creating a special city "super sticker" that would cost $50 more than the current sticker, which is $75. Others have suggested that the city create a separate library taxing district.
"That would pull the library money from the city budget and it would be funded separately," Keenan said. "I don't know if that's the way to go, but we need a year to figure it all out. Perhaps we could go with a public-private funding formula. I don't think we've explored all the possibilities."
The library's south branch is in the 3rd Ward, and Ald. Melissa Wynne favors keeping the branches open.
"Branch libraries serve a separate need than the main branch," she said. "They are a kind of gateway into the library for the community. ... I'm hopeful, but I understand this is a very large deficit we're having to deal with."
Residents, like Keenan, are mobilizing again to fight as they have in years past. They have gathered at recent budget workshops, pleading for the money to be restored.
Some have put "Save Our Libraries" signs on their lawns. More than 1,000 people signed an online petition to save the branches at branchl ove.org.
"I love our branch libraries," resident Anne Humphrey said before a recent council meeting. "They're a more important part of the fabric of Evanston than a post office or firehouse."
Humphrey said she takes her two young children to the south branch at least once a week.
"The libraries are free, they are open to everyone, so they help people connect to each other," she said. "I think that's an important part of being in Evanston."
In recent days, rallies have been held at both branches — the north at 2026 Central St. and the south at 949 Chicago Ave.
Phillip O'Rourke said he would pay a slight increase in taxes.
"I think there's a need for this," he said.
— Brian Cox