Context of the Library Issues

Since before the opening of the new Main Library building in 1994 the Evanston City Council has managed the General Fund Budget which included the Evanston Public Library.

The last strategic Library Plan was completed in 1996. It covered 1996 to 2000. A more recent plan has not yet been produced.1
In 2007 the city commissioned a Master Plan for Central Street. The plan noted that the North Branch was an ‘activity generator’. Subsequent data indicates that North and South Branch libraries each generated approximately 70,000 visits per year before the 2010 service cuts.7
EPL system expenses have been 5 to 6% of the City General Fund budget. The branches in turn have been 8% of the EPL system budget.2 If the library had been a line item on the property tax bill, then every $1,000 paid in taxes would have included $20 for the library system which in turn would have included $2 for the branches (Figure 1). Put another way, Evanston’s library levy would have been $51 per capita under the Library Fund model.3 That would have included $5 per capita for the branches.
In 2008 comparable suburban Chicago communities typically spent twice as much per resident (1.2 to 3.0) as Evanston for libraries.4 In 2008 the City Council spent less per EPL circulated item than 90% of the libraries in Cook County.5
From 2007 to 2010 Evanston Public Library circulation grew 12%. This growth spurt mirrored a nationwide trend in library use during the recession and followed a six year period of less than 1% growth per year. 
Since the branch service cutbacks in March, 2010 annual circulation has declined 5.9% system wide. Circulation fell 3.6% (-30,492) at the Main and 19.1% (-31,837) at the branches. The drop-offs do not appear to support the hypothesis that former branch patrons would switch to the Main; the data appears to support the hypothesis that branch services are unique. 5, 6, 7
In the summer of 2008 the Library Board conducted a survey of over 900 library patrons. A single paragraph in the September 17, 2008 board minutes summarized the consultant’s findings:
“’Lack of time’ was the number one response to a question about the barriers people find to library use. This should lead the Library to focus on the things that can be done to make services more convenient.” 8
The survey data showed that 46% of patrons walked or biked to the library.9 The survey cost Evanston taxpayers $4,000 but has not been published. 
From 2007 to 2010, half the growth in the EPL system occurred in the branches. In the fiscal year ending February, 2010, the North and South branches represented approximately 17% of the system circulation. However, from fiscal years 2007 to 2010 the two branches accounted for over 46% of total system circulation growth and 74% of the system growth in patron visits.6, 7 
On December 30, 2009, the Evanston City Manager proposed cutting the EPL budget 14% and closing the branches March 1, 2010. 10
In January, 2010, the City dissolved the historic Library Friends organization after a period of relative inactivity. At approximately the same time an Evanston-wide group of Library advocates collected over 1,100 petition signatures supporting the branches and two months later incorporated Evanston Public Library Friends (EPLF). (Correction: The original Library Friend's officers actually disolved the organization, not the City - Correction courtesy Paul Gottschalk)
On February 20, 2010, the City Council agreed to fund the branches for six months if the newly formed Evanston Public Library Friends (EPLF) would raise private funds necessary for the remaining six months.11 EPLF raised funds ($160K) in four months and the branches were funded until February, 2011. Branch service hours were cut 20%.
On July 21, 2010 EPLF presented The Library Trustees a check for $108,400 for six months operation of the North and South Branches (August, 2010 to February, 2011)
On August 4, 2010, the Library Board voted to change EPL governance to conform to Illinois law by establishing a Library Fund controlled by the Library Trustees.12 Illinois law stipulates that the Library Board Trustees (not the city council) have financial authority, including the authority to budget and levy. The law also states that the Trustees have the responsibility to “render the use of the library of the greatest benefit to the greatest number of such residents and taxpayers.” It was subsequently determined that due to unmet administrative requirements that the Library Fund could not begin operation until the 2012 fiscal year. Until then the Library would remain under City Council budget authority. In addition a Memorandum of Understanding would need to be established between the City and the Library Board.
On September 29, 2010 residents at the second of two budget workshops hosted by the City Manager overwhelmingly voted to restore funding for the branches.  The city Manager promised that his report to the Council would reflect that no one attending the meetings recommended closing the branch libraries and that that step would not be among the budget options. City Staff reported that the video of the meeting was lost due to technical problems. Later in October, 2010 the City conducted an on-line survey asking residents to prioritize city services. Initially an option to close the branches was ‘erroneously’ included. However, those responding overwhelmingly supported both library services and branch libraries.
On October 20, 2010, the Library Trustees formed a Planning Committee.13 Led by a paid consultant and comprised of Trustees, residents and library staff, the committee is charged with producing a long range vision for Evanston library services. Their report is promised in mid-2011.  
On October 23, 2010, the City Manager recommended a budget that eliminated funding for neighborhood branch libraries and proposed further cuts to library staff levels.14 Part of a Library Outreach Staff position was reallocated to the new 311 system.
On November 17, 2010, The City Council voted to approve the recommended funding levels for the library portion of the budget but not to dictate to the Library Board whether to fund or close the branches. The Council had considered in discussion, but had failed to approve alternative sources of funds to sustain the branches.15
On December 8, 2010, the Trustees voted partial 2011 funding for the North Branch, through August, 2011. The Library Trustees adopted the City Council provided budget and prioritized Main operations leaving $148,893 for Neighborhood Services including the North Branch. This left no funds for South Branch operations, and was insufficient to support the North Branch for the full fiscal year.16
EPLF offered to find and pay rent for an alternative South Branch space for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, until the Library could restore sufficient system funding through its own levy. On January 19, 2011 the Library Board voted to pursue this offer.17 Within weeks EPLF found space and entered into a letter of intent with the landlord that would allow interim operation. On February 23 however, the Board unexpectedly voted not to accept EPLF’s offer.18
On February 28, 2011, after over 90 years' operation, the South Branch was closed. 
On March 31, 2011 EPLF opened The Mighty Twig (TMT) outpost one block south of the former South Branch location. TMT is funded entirely by EPLF donors.
At present, the Library Trustees have not decided whether to fund the North Branch Library after August, 2011
Without additional funding, the North Branch will cease operation in August. Funding levels for 2012 have not yet been determined. The 2012 budget schedule calls for recommended program cutbacks/eliminations to be identified by August 8 and the City Manager recommended budget to go to the City Council on October 7. The EPL Planning committee process is underway but it is not yet clear if it will be completed in time to impact the 2012 budget process.
The City attempted to auction the North Branch property as recently as 2008.  (Correction: The city attempted to auction only the 2022 Central store location which is part of the same building.  The proceeds were to have been used to support rehab of the North Branch.  One bidder expressed interest in both locations but that was not part of the deal. correction courtesy - Paul Gottschalk)

1.        History of Evanston Public Library:
3.        Library Board Meeting Minutes August 4, 2010:
4.        From comparison data at the Institute of Museum and Library Services web site: e.g.
5.        From data at the Institute of Museum and Library Services:
6.        From data at the Institute of Museum and Library Services:
7.        Library Board Meeting Packet 3/16/2011:
8.        Joey Rodger, Gossage Sager Associates: Evanston  Library Board Minutes September 17, 2008
12.     Library Board Minutes August 4, 2010:
13.     Library Board Minutes October 20, 2010:
14.     2010-2011 Budget Overview Presentation:
16.     Library Board Meeting Minutes 12/8/2010:
17.     Library Board Minutes 1/19/2011:
18.     Library Board Minutes 2/23/2011: