Neighborhood locations for the Chicago Public Library system will now be open only five days a week, starting next week. The system announced the decision to close branch libraries on Mondays on its Facebook page.
“Where we are right now with having lost some staff, this is the best way for us to be able to present and provide library service in all of the branches with the staff that we have,” explained Ruth Lednicer, Director of Marketing and Press for the Chicago Public Library.
The system’s main Harold Washington branch and the two regional libraries will remain open on Mondays, said Lednicer. But the system has made some other changes as a result of the reduced staffing, including cutting the number of items that a library can have on hold at one time from five to three.
The library system lost 181 employees, equalling 18 percent of its staff, as a result of cuts that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council made in the 2012 budget. The cut amounted to $3.3 million, less than what Emanuel had originally proposed. Emanuel suggested Monday and Friday morning hours at the neighborhood branches could be eliminated to accommodate the loss of 181 employees, which took effect this month.
Carl Sorrell, president of AFSCME Local 1215, which represents Chicago library staff, says the idea to close for the full day on Mondays will deeply hurt patrons’ library usage.
“It’s usually the first day of the week when kids get their most homework assignments,” said Sorrell, “so Monday evenings are usually pretty busy. And most people who are looking for a job usually try to start on Monday mornings. So we’re busy Monday morning with people looking for jobs. So this is really a very big deal.”
Sorrell said eliminating Mondays will also mean reducing evening hours at some libraries. Last year, half of the branches were open until 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the others had their evening hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Eliminating Monday hours altogether will mean that in many neighborhoods the library will only be open after 6 p.m. once per week.
Sorrell and other union officials say the city’s move was unilateral — possibly in violation of the union’s contract with the city.
“The union has received no official notification of this,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31. “We’ve learned, like the public has learned, through social media actually — (through) the library posting on Facebook.”
Lindall says the union may have legal recourse in the matter, but says it’s not yet clear how that may take shape.
The office of the mayor issued the following statement Friday morning regarding the union's comments:
"Throughout the budget process, it was made clear by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of his administration -- and cited by the media -- that the plan to reduce library hours to avoid library closings was contingent upon union agreement. The City has been working with AFSCME since the passage of the budget to garner such agreement. But to date, the unions have not agreed, so the Chicago Public Library leadership announced that it would be forced to choose the alternative of closing libraries on Mondays entirely."