December 8, 2010

Chicago libraries buck the trend


Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

Someone buy Mayor Richard Daley a drink.

In a move that’s counter to the national trend, Michael Kelley reported in Library Journal this week that the mayor and the Chicago City Council have approved a budget that actually increases funding next year, allowing the city’s librarians to keep their jobs. If that weren’t enough, the Chicago Public Library system will actually have to hire more people to fill positions as they are opening four new branches in the spring. This all despite a projected budget deficit of over $600 million.

This decision is sure to have its detractors. If you recall, back in June MobyLives reported on the debate as it stood then. The local Fox affiliate ran a story titled “Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?”, which, as you can imagine, used the sort of lurid, undercover takedown methods that’s so common in local TV news. Fox reporter Anna Davlantes took a news crew with hidden cameras to the library to spy on patrons working on computers and, apparently, not browsing the shelves (though one wonders whether they just decided to find a deserted row to film in order to make their point). This report made news in the library world because the ALA Annual Conference just happened to be going on in DC at the time. Mary Dempsey, Chicago Public Library Commissioner, sent an excellent response to Fox and Davlantes that’s worth re-reading as so many other libraries continue to face the same questions.

With the addition of the four new branches, the total number serving Chicago residents will increase to 74. But lest you think Daley is a selfless saint content in the knowledge that his efforts are reward enough, in a move that’s an exception to a rule that public buildings be named for geographic locations, the largest of the new branches will be named, you guessed it, “The Richard M. Daley Branch.”

I imagine a few Chicago librarians think that’s a fair trade.