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Emanuel to cut Chicago libraries’ hours

city budgets since 2000

’11 $6.15 bil. 43-7
’10 $6.1 bil. 38-12
’09 $6 bil. 49-1
’08 $5.9 bil. 37-13
’07 $5.7 bil. Unanimous
’06 $5.2 bil. 48-1 ’05 $5.1 bil. 47-3
’04 $4.8 bil. 50-0
’03 $4.7 bil. 48-0
’02 $4.6 bil. 50-0
’01 $4.5 bil. 48-0
’00 $4.3 bil. 49-0

Note: The year is the budget year. They typically pass in November or December of the previous year.

Updated: January 23, 2012 4:02AM

Chicago’s public libraries will reduce their hours in 2012, even as the city continues to build new libraries, Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Tuesday.

Emanuel defended the library cuts built into his 2012 budget, saying they’re a small price to pay at a time when other major cities are closing libraries.

Sources said the reduced hours will be concentrated on two days, including Mondays, when library usage is the lowest.

Over the last three years, library usage in Chicago has declined.

“If you think you’re gonna balance a budget with a $637 million deficit that’s about 20 percent out of whack and you’re … gonna do it without controversy, call me. I’m really interested in the idea,” Emanuel said facetiously.

“Do I expect controversy? Sure. But I also know that [New York] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg, who I have a lot of respect for — they closed libraries. You have to look at the context….The budget I will present will make the tough choices, and it will be honest with the people of Chicago about those tough choices to put our fiscal house in order.”

Emanuel said he understands the “important role that libraries play in the educational and cultural life” of Chicago but also knows “what other cities are doing, which is closing” libraries.

Even with reduced operating hours, the mayor said, “I’m gonna stay committed to the goal of libraries in our communities so our kids have an opportunity to go and to learn not just at school, but at home and in their libraries.”

Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey did not return calls seeking comment on the cuts.

Sources said she has been calling her aldermanic allies in hopes of reversing the impending library cuts.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, said cutting the hours of libraries viewed as safe havens in many communities is never popular with his colleagues.

But, he said, “When everybody was hearing they were gonna be closing libraries, if they say we’re only gonna lose hours, more people are accepting of that.”

New York City has cut library spending by 25 percent, a move that’s expected to force the closing of 14 branch libraries next year. Similar cuts are being made in Newark, N.J. (18 percent) and Houston (14.5 percent). Seattle has cut library spending by 7.4 percent and shut down its entire library system for one week at the end of August.

Chicago has 77 branch libraries, along with the Sulzer and Woodson regional libraries and the Harold Washington central library in the South Loop.

With the opening of the new West Town and Altgeld branches last year and the West Humboldt Park, Greater Grand Crossing, Dunning and Little Village branches either completed or planned for this year, the city will have replaced or built 59 libraries since 1989, when former Mayor Richard M. Daley took office.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Emanuel proposed building two more libraries — one of them at 5150 N. Kimball.

Early in his administration, Daley proposed reducing library hours — and closing the Harold Washington Library on Sundays — only to reverse that decision after a barrage of protests.

From that moment on, libraries appeared to enjoy a special protected status with Daley and benefited from a property tax levy specifically for public libraries.

That protected status ended in 2009 when Daley laid off 120 library workers charged with re-shelving books, known as pages, nearly half the complement.

When books piled up because there were not enough people to re-stack shelves, the mayor was forced to reduce weekday hours to accommodate an “exhausted” and overworked library staff.

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