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Aldermen Concerned About Library Budget Cuts

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Library Generic (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Library Generic (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Aldermen at Friday’s City Council Budget Hearings said they hope there’s some way to prevent the big cuts in Public Library staffing and hours that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed.

As WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, Emanuel’s budget plan would cut funding for libraries by $10 million and lay off scores of employees, including all library pages, who shelve books.

The plan would also call for closing branch libraries on Monday and Friday mornings, although they would remain open six days a week.

“Hearing what we’re going to be cutting in the library system, I don’t know that I can stomach that,” Ariel Reboyras (30th) said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore Reports

Several aldermen declared that many communities, especially the poorer ones, will be hurt if libraries lose staff and reduce their hours.

Ald. John Pope (10th) noted that libraries have faced cutbacks before and he asked Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey who is shelving books at the libraries.

“In 2010, we lost 10 percent of our staff – which was half of our library pages – and so everyone is re-shelving books,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey also said that even she and her top deputies are helping to sort books, although they are not re-shelving them.

But as CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the cuts to the library system appears to be the first issue that truly resonates with most aldermen, as dozens spoke out in hopes of reversing the cuts to the libraries.

“It appears to me that we are maybe … cutting off our nose to spite our face. We’re adding 90 minutes to a school day, but we’re cutting library hours,” Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) said.

“They are 3 percent of this budget, but they are asking 50 percent of their budget to be cut. That’s ridiculous,” Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) said.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said, “It’s so unfair to already overburdened communities that are already underserved.”

One after another, aldermen spoke out against the cuts, wearing stickers saying “Don’t cut library services.”

Dempsey, a holdover from the Daley administration who led a drive that built 59 new libraries under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, said the mayor’s plan would force 284 layoffs and eliminate 268 job vacancies.

That includes four branch librarians, 11 child librarians and nine reference librarians. It also includes 112 clerks and all 146 pages charged with shelving books.

“If you have a third less staff, you can’t expect them to be Superman and work the same number of hours,” Dempsey said.

Patrons of the Richard M. Daley library branch in Humboldt Park said any loss of hours or staff would be a huge blow.

“Our kids need it, especially Monday through Friday. They need to come do their homework, so how they gonna cut their hours?” Gregory Petty said.

“I’ve been using this for my job search and everything. That’s why I come here,” Jackie Joseph said.

“This means a lot to me. I come here to get my books, stuff for my children. I come to use the computer and everything,” Shantel Silket said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) hinted that aldermen might halt the mayor’s proposed library cuts.

“Well, I don’t think it’s a lost cause, because, you know, we all still have to vote on it at the end of the day. It’s not over until it’s over,” Burnett said. “We’re willing to negotiate, we’re willing to try and get some compromises, we’re willing to try and get them to try and work on some other things and adjust it a little bit.”

Late Friday afternoon, the mayor’s office issued a prepared statement, saying “We put forth a budget proposal which we think is the right thing to do for Chicagoans, but alderman have to weigh in.”

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