Niles-Maine District Library: What Will Be Left?
If the Niles-Maine District Library budget is gutted this Wednesday, other elected officials in the area need to be prepared to pick up the pieces. Because what's going to happen for the people and community isn't going to be pretty.
For all the elected officials in the Niles-Maine District Library area, it’s important to understand that the proposal by a few radicalized library trustees to cut the library budget and regressively realign the library’s priorities is, at its core, a dysfunctional approach to government.
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This plan forces an austerity budget on your community when things continue to improve. Their plan for the library is, fundamentally, unneighborly because it dismantles a core institution that supports your neighborhoods. It is unkind because it removes important services from those who need it most. And it is truly unwise. I’d like to argue that even those among us who believe in small government should look at this radical proposal to starve the library to a point-of-no-return as the least efficient way to put a small amount of smart tax money to work. The communities that the Niles-Maine District Library serves should not be forced to live with such scarcity.
If their budget proposal is enacted on Wednesday and the lights begin to dim at the Niles Maine Township Library, other elected officials in the schools, township, city, and even the county and state level need to anticipate a number of unwelcome and unnecessary shortfalls. New negative impacts on the quality of life in your community start Thursday. It’s important for you to hear it now because you need to be prepared. If these cuts to the library budget go through, the school boards and administrations need to be ready to receive kindergarteners who are less prepared as readers and learners, and to welcome students coming back from summer break who have lost measurable momentum in ELL and reading. The “summer slide” in your area next year will be steep. This is what happens when literacy services and children’s programming are defunded.
For Township leaders, you are already working hard on senior services, youth and families, and for folks in transition and crisis. We can’t imagine that losing the library as a viable and functional partner will make it any easier for the people you serve or the important role you play. When the library is so dramatically cut, everything from job readiness to health and well-being suffers. For County leaders who have been fighting COVID while working to ensure that local businesses and families don’t fail, you’ll remember what former Cook County president John Stroger knew: that the county is the government of last resort. Please be prepared for more folks to need more from you now. It is what happens when there are fewer things for teens to do and diminished access for everyone to the basics like computers and the internet.
But we’d especially like to make sure that the Niles City Council and Mayor are prepared to see trouble for local retail and small businesses. If these proposed cuts are enacted, Niles will lose a key retail anchor: a decent library. We have seen it around the country again and again. Until it’s gone, no one realizes how important a good library is to a vital retail sector and to support an interesting place to live. The library is an anchor tenant in your city. As your retail and service businesses come through COVID they can’t afford to lose a key destination like the library. You see, one of the strengths of the library systems in Illinois is that a library card is “good anywhere”. If these budget cuts are enacted and your library starts to unravel, your residents will vote with their feet and go to neighboring towns’ libraries and stay there to shop. Likewise, if you’re concerned about making sure Niles is a city that is an interesting place to live, you are about to lose one of the best sources for programs and special events in town. You’ll either have to figure out how to stand in that gap or be prepared to see more functional neighboring towns and cities attract new residents.
Don't let them destroy the library.
EveryLibrary is a national political action committee for libraries. Around the country, we support smart library funding proposals on the ballot and at the board table. We have worked with hundreds of libraries all across the country and with neighboring communities just down the road the Niles-Maine District Library. When we learned about the proposal by some of your library board members to defund and dismantle the library we were alarmed. And from the sound of it, these board members are dead-set on enacting their radical defunding plan at Wednesday’s board meeting. We wrote this open letter to the other elected officials in your area to give them a heads-up on what is to come for the people you serve and the places you call home.
Here at EveryLibrary, we know very clearly that a small amount of smart investment in a library allows dedicated staff to do the important work to build more interesting, thriving, and prosperous places. But it has to be under the guidance and governance of a compassionate and engaged board that understands the impact of libraries and the importance of library workers. It is evident to us - and to a lot of your constituents - that a majority of the library board lacks those leadership qualities. We are sorry that the rest of you who were elected to lead and to serve will have to pick up the pieces.