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Library cuts called ‘devastating’ — and confusing

Librarians and library supporters are planning to stage the popular “story time” program at City Hall on Monday morning to protest budget cuts.

But they’re scratching their heads over a budget proposal that cuts hours and staff to reduce the library budget by $10 million, while increasing the budget for capital improvements at libraries by $11 million.

Librarians will read to children, and librarians and library supporters will talk about why they love their libraries at Story Time at City Hall outside the Mayor’s office at 10:45 a.m. on Monday, October 31.  They’ll also deliver petitions with thousands of signatures opposing the proposed cuts.

Mayor Emanuel has proposed laying off about a third of the library system’s staff, which supporters say is already strained since staff reductions in 2009.

According to AFSCME Council 31, which represents library staff, the cuts would lay off at least 24 librarians, 112 library clerks, and all 146 pages from 78 branch libraries.

It could mean the loss of all children’s programming, including early childhood literacy programs, supporters say.

Library supporters around the city are mobilizing to contact aldermen oppose the cuts.

This is  not just a minor reduction of hours, said Kang Chiu of Friends of Rogers Park Library in an e-mail to supporters: “It will gut our city’s major learning resource.”

Elimination of clerks and pages “would be devastating” for the library’s hold system, which makes all of CPL’s 5.7 million books and its entire DVD holdings available at any branch, said Brenda Sawyer of Friends of Blackstone Library.

The system, which moves 750,000 items between branches each month, is “a little gem of a tool,” Sawyer said, but huge backlogs developed when pages were laid off in 2009, forcing a reduction of hours the next year.  Without pages, “it won’t work,” Sawyer said.

She adds that when hours were reduced last year, they were staggered so that if one branch was closed, a nearby one was open.  It was “a maze” but at least “it gave you an option.”  Now all branches will be closed on Monday and Friday mornings.

Monday mornings are particularly busy at the Near North Branch Library, said Gail Shiner, who’s active with the Friends group there.

“It’s a safe haven for people who don’t have a place to be,” Shiner said.  “I feel for the homeless people who come to the library, and for the seniors.  There are people who come from shelters and want to know about computers.”

“Many of our people don’t have computers,” she said, pointing out that many jobs can only be applied for online.  “A lot of children don’t’ have a computer in their home.  And now the schools send everything out by computer.  If you’re a parent and you don’t have a computer, you’ve got to go to the library.”

Parents United for Responsible Education points out that one in four CPS elementary schools and 51 high schools have no school libraries, and branch libraries are the only source of computer access —  and actual books – for students in many communities.

So far inexplicable is a new $11 million appropriation in the proposed corporate budget “to improve library services by renovating and constructing libraries.”  Union researchers can’t figure it out, and library officials were reportedly unable to account for it in a City Council budget committee hearing.

Aside from the corporate budget, the proposed capital budget lists three library projects:  a new branch library in Edgewater, an addition for the Humboldt Park branch, and renovations at the Albany Park branch.  These total $8.5 million, but most of that is covered by TIF funds.  “It’s extremely confusing,” said one budget analyst.

Does it mean the city is prioritizing jobs for contractors (who may or may not live in the city) over solid jobs for city workers?

Or could it be an example of what Emanuel said in NYT columnist Thomas Friedman’s paean to the mayor’s “progressive agenda on a Tea Party allowance?” The Times’s quirky prophet of globalization wrote: “Emanuel simply calls his philosophy ‘cut and invest.'”

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Category: libraries

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One Response

  1. Gail Shiner says:

    Good article on the library issue.

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