“For too long the libraries have been an easy mark for the city at budget time,” declared Evanston, Illinois, resident Lori Keenan in a February 6 statement on behalf of BranchLove.org, a grassroots group she cofounded. Keenan, along with other library backers in the Chicago suburb that is home to Northwestern University, is continuing a campaign to keep Evanston Public Library’s two branches open despite the city council’s February 1 vote to close them effective March 1.
Impressively, activists may be succeeding: Evanston aldermen temporarily reversed their decision two days after taking the vote, according to the February 5 Chicago Tribune. Keenan told American Libraries that the aldermen have given library supporters six months to raise at least $160,000, which would keep the branches open five days a week for half a year.
Area residents are doing just that, with more than 100 having pledged over $24,000 as of February 8. Additionally, Keenan said, “A large number of artists have come forward offering their support by donating artwork to sell to raise money for BranchLove.” Among them is Emile Ferris, who gave Flower Book (above) to library fundraisers.
The cause has also garnered the support of Evanston native Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, who said of the potential closures, “It seems very short-sighted to solve temporary budget problems with drastic solutions that benefit no one.” She credited her weekly walk as a child from her home to the threatened North branch as “my introduction to the whole concept of libraries [and] the experience made me a life-long library user.”
Another bestselling author and Evanstonian, Scott Turow, has joined Niffenegger in endorsing the save-the-branches campaign, Keenan told AL.
“How can Evanston close the branch libraries when the schools are trying to increase achievement in reading?” asked another Evanston-based author, Nancy Johnson, who wrote How to Insure Your Child’s Success in School. “Reading is the key to success in school, and neighborhood libraries are essential to school achievement.”
“The citizens of Evanston value and appreciate our local libraries,” Keenan affirmed. “Yet they continue to be underfunded and threatened with closure every year. Somewhere there seems to be a disconnect.” Gate-count seems to bear out Keenan's assertion: The January 19 Evanston Roundtable reported that visits to EPL's Main Library rose 7% between 2008 and 2009, but 13% at the North branch and 31% at the South branch.