Budget cuts hit libraries hard

By Aviva Einhorn

Now in effect for three weeks, Chicago Public Library closings, new scheduling and budget cuts at numerous branches have posed many hardships for Chicagoans.

Carl Sorrell, library associate and president of the CPL Employee Union, said he is disappointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to cut library funding and close branches

on Mondays.

“We don’t believe the public should suffer because the mayor can’t decide what he wants to do,” Sorrell said. “If there is funding for other things, there should be funding for the libraries. Libraries are a part of the educational system in Chicago, [and] this is something he should step up to the plate and do—provide library access

to citizens.”

The decision to cut funding came after months of deliberation and the final approval of the mayor’s 2012 budget, as previously reported by The Chronicle Nov. 21, 2011.

According to Sorrell, CPL budget cuts amount to approximately $12 million.  As a result, library pages, whose duties included sorting and shelving books, were let go, leaving remaining staff members burdened with trying to assume the extra work created by employee layoffs, according to Sorrell.

“The losing of the pages and part-time clerk positions are detrimental to the library as a whole because they do more than just shelve books,” Sorrell said. “They also support what we do at the circulation department and help fill in when there are staff shortages.”

The schedule change and budget cuts have drawn much criticism from various library employees. Now 75 of the 78 CPL branches will be closed on Mondays.    The  Woodson branch, 9525 S. Halsted St.; Sulzer branch, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave.; and the Harold Washington branch, 400 S. State St., will continue to remain open seven days per week.

Andrea Dickson, a retired South Side resident, said she uses the libraries frequently and was concerned when she heard about the cuts.

“The library is a public resource,” Dickson said. “There are other budgets that should be cut before libraries.  We’re putting out the people who depend on libraries every single day for school and work and other things. It’s not right for the city to take away our libraries. ”

Many residents and library employees are worried about people who depend on reliable hours for after-school help with homework or the use of the computers to search for jobs.

“I would say many employees are very disappointed that the mayor chose to pick on the libraries when we provide nothing but service,” Sorrell said. “When did we become the enemy? If he can find money to fund big businesses, why can’t he find the money to fund the libraries?”

Sam Eckles, a retired South Side residentand self-described “library devotee,” said he visits the library four to five times per week. Eckles said the nearest library to his home is the Brighton Park branch, 4314 S. Archer Ave., which is now closed Mondays.

“Yes, it’s going to inconvenience me and everyone else who goes to the library,” Eckles said. “The library doesn’t have priority in relation to other circumstances in the city. I’ll have to start commuting downtown if I want to go to the library on Monday.  That doesn’t seem right.”

Sorrell said the library’s funding-related issues will not be tabled and added that the CPL union is not looking to wage war against the mayor, but rather come up with a more reasonable solution.

“We are currently in negotiation with the city in hopes of reversing this, [and] I don’t want the wrong impression to get out,” Sorrell said. “We’re not in a fight with the mayor. We are looking for ways to work with the mayor and to solve whatever economic difficulties the city has in order to solve the best interest of the public.”