The protest may not yet be on the scale of Occupy Wall Street, but there’s another citizen movement afoot, this one to save the Chicago Public Library system from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s cost-cutting axe.
When reports surfaced that the mayor’s proposed budget included $10 million in cuts to the city’s libraries, translating to 363 eliminated staff positions and reduced branch hours, fans of CPL quickly mobilized: they have a Facebook page, Twitter account and petition. They also have supporters on City Council, including Ald. Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward, who has called on his colleagues to work with the Mayor’s Office to restore funding to the library.
Live tweeting from last week’s budget hearing, Save Chicago Public Library presented testimony from CPL Commissioner Mary Dempsey, who’s held the post since 1994. Dempsey cited a number of important statistics: 8.3 million visitors to CPL branches year-to-date; 60 percent of people using library computers are using them to search for jobs; the new budget would slash library staff 32 percent, on top of a 10 percent staff cut in 2010.
For many residents, the library is more than just a place to check out free books. It’s a homework center, computer lab, research facility, warming/cooling shelter and overall community hub. Programming runs the gamut, from children’s story hours to gardening seminars. The Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 N. Lincoln, is one such hive of activity: on Nov. 12, the branch will play host to the 47th Ward Wellness Fair, featuring blood pressure checks, flu shots and activities for the kids. Dempsey predicted a decrease in such programming, reduced circulation and shelving backlogs if the current budget passes.
Budget hearings continue this week and next, with a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 2.
In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the libraries. CPL is conducting a survey (funded with grant money) to better understand the habits of the “City of Big Readers.” If you’re a book lover, here’s your chance to be counted.