Rahm turns page again, reopens libraries

By Aviva Einhorn

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and recently resigned Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey announced Jan. 20 that libraries will soon see another modification to CPL branch hours. Although Dempsey’s resignation came in the midst of CPL controversy, she told the Chicago Tribune her decision was not affected by recent events.

Despite the mayor’s initiative to close library branches on Mondays because of budget cuts, as reported by The Chronicle Jan. 23, libraries will reopen Monday afternoons during the school year and all day on Mondays when Chicago public schools are not in session. The changes, prompted by the unpopularity of the previous ones, will take effect Feb. 6.

According to Carl Sorrell, library associate and president of the CPL Employee Union, the union is unsatisfied with the revisions, which include reallocating $2 million in resources and bringing back some former employees and new hires.

“We’re thankful that the mayor has decided to bring back some employees that were laid off and the decision to hire some new employees,” Sorrell said. “However, he needs to give us another four hours and bring back another 133 people so the library branches can be open a full 48 hours during the week.”

The union demonstrated its disapproval of the changes Jan. 23, rallying outside of three CPL branch locations: the Beverly branch, 1962 W. 95th St.; the Little Village branch, 2311 S. Kedzie Ave.; and the Bucktown-Wicker Park branch, 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave.

“We viewed the rallies as very successful,” Sorrell said. “At each location, we had between 50 and 75 people, as well as community members who joined in, agreeing that they wanted to see their library hours restored.”

In contrast to dissatisfied union workers, Ruth Lednicer, CPL director of Marketing and Press, said she is grateful that the mayor has restored some staff and a portion of library funding to allow libraries to reopen on Mondays.

“The mayor had always said during the budget hearings that he was committed to six days a week service,” Lednicer said. “With the restoring of these workers, we can offer half-day Monday and full-day Friday. Our staff is always thrilled to be able to be open again and providing service.”

According to Lednicer, library workers are pleased to have some former staff rehired. Branches are frequented after school, and being open on Mondays will restore this resource for students.

Lednicer said she believes that bringing back employees and opening 20 new positions during the next few months will help libraries run smoothly and compensate for the current backup many branches are experiencing because of staff shortages.

Tom Alexander, spokesman for the Mayor’s Office, acknowledged that the mayor and the CPL union have found little common ground.

“The mayor has proposed a solution publicly many, many times with the support of the alderman,” Alexander said. “When the union rejected that and he proposed a new solution, which has worked and will result in the libraries reopening. However, the union is still protesting about it.”

It’s yet to be seen if and how the union workers will continue to fight for funding restoration. According to Sorrell, there will be more rallies in the future if necessary.