Monday, January 18, 2010
Marching for the branches
This afternoon I joined some 300 demonstrators of all ages on Central Street in northwest Evanston, Illinois, my winter residence, to protest the cash-strapped city's proposal to close its two branch libraries and save about $425,000 -- really a drop in the bucket for a city with a population of 80,000.
Champions of the libraries argue that the proposal would likely result in two unintended consequences:
First, it would insult the ideal of literacy for the children of five schools -- four public, one parochial -- who live within walking distance of the Central Street Branch Library and patronize it heavily. (There is no school near the main library downtown.)
Second, it would remove a major attraction for the business districts in which the branch libraries reside. Many shoppers would take their dollars elsewhere, such as the Wilmette commercial district near its public library a mile north of Central Street.
The protesters are asking that the city allow the library supporters a year to come up with alternate financial plans that would keep open both branches. (A similar march was held at the South Branch.)
Of the several proposals, the one that sounds most sensible to me is to remove the entire library system from city ownership, instead forming a separate library district that would be an entirely new taxing body. (Most other Chicago suburbs operate their libraries in this fashion.)
The event was a remarkable turnout of book lovers young and old, and it gave me strong hope that the aldermen will vote to keep the branches open past March 1.
By the way, no buses were overturned or cars torched during the pointedly cheerful demonstration. Looting was limited to the hot chocolate machine at the Linz & Vail coffee shop, which generously provided free cocoa to sore-footed children, and at the Great Harvest bread shop, source of free cookies.
There wasn't a cop in sight, either. This was an exceedingly peaceable protest march -- it was Martin Luther King Day, after all -- and I was delighted to be in the middle of it.