More than 100 city librarians, community members and other Chicago Public Library supporters gathered outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office in City Hall for a protest and story time in response to Emanuel's proposed cuts to library hours and staffing Monday morning.
The protesters, including a number of costumed toddlers, also delivered petitions with more than 4,000 signatures to Emanuel's office. They hope the mayor will reconsider his deep cuts to the system.
As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Emanuel has proposed a $10 million reduction in funding for the city's library system, which is comprised of 79 branches located throughout the city. The cuts, if approved by the City Council, mean that libraries will be closed Monday and Friday mornings and that 284 staffers will be laid off, including a number of librarians, clerks and the entire team of pages who are tasked with shelving books. Another 268 vacancies in the system will be eliminated.
City librarian Annie Ayres, who has been working in the system for the last two decades, told the Chicago Tribune that the cuts will have a deep impact beyond just the reduced hours. She and other librarians said they will likely wind up being too busy with other tasks to lead programming like children's story time or to help unemployed patrons use computers to job hunt.
"If we have these cuts, we won’t be able to do children’s programs or help people look things up," Ayres told the Tribune. "I’ll be busy just trying to keep the books on the shelf."
The crowd at City Hall on Monday brandished signs that read, "We Shall Not be Shushed!" and "No Library Cuts, Don't Lock Out Learning," the Tribune reports.
"At a time we're taking more and more things away from our kids, we need to give them something to expand their imaginations," Beverly Cook, another two decades-plus veteran of the city library system told CBS Chicago of the cuts.
The City Council's Progressive Caucus has urged the mayor to increase the size of his tax-increment funding (TIF) surplus -- from 20 percent to 40 percent -- to free up another $12 million in order to sustain the city library system, according to the Sun-Times. Others have suggested that construction cease on new capital projects currently in development, including a new facility in Edgewater and an expansion in Humboldt Park.
But the mayor contends that his plan is better than the alternative, which he says would have been closing as many as a dozen of the system's libraries, according to the Sun-Times. The library cuts have emerged as among the more controversial proposals of the mayor's first budget.
A Facebook page titled "Save Chicago Public Libraries and Librarian Jobs" has been joined by nearly 1,700 people to date.
Photo by CCAC North Library via Flickr.