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Chicago branch libraries to close on Mondays

Friday, January 06, 2012

A new money-saving plan could mean Chicago libraries will be open fewer hours every week.

Most city libraries will be closed on Mondays because of budget cuts. The Monday closures affect branch libraries, while the downtown Harold Washington Library, the Sulzer Regional Library on the North Side and the Woodson Regional Library on the South Side will remain open seven days a week, although only between 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

The union representing library workers said they sent the city a letter to stop the plan from happening. They said they were completely caught off guard with the schedules, and they were not properly notified.

Artist Chris Evans uses the library to get ideas and have a quiet place to draw.

"I feel it's kinda wrong because most people need that time 'cause there's a lot of students who use the libraries to do their homework, use their laptop and stuff like that," said Evans.

"We want to solve the problem. The problem is 176 library employees needed to serve the city of Chicago lost their jobs as of the first of this year. The problem is that the people of the city of Chicago are facing reduced access to their libraries," said Anders Lindall, AFCME Council 31.

Lindall represents about 3,500 city employees, including frontline employees of Chicago public libraries and says he learned about the change on the public library Facebook page Tuesday. The union says they received no formal notification from the city.

"There's been no attempt by the city to bargain over schedule changes, which is technically a violation of their duty under the law, so they can't unilaterally change schedules of library employees," Lindall said.

Some aldermen say they voted on a different plan, so the change is taking them by surprise and causing controversy.

It was already an issue in the fall when librarians delivered petitions bearing 4,000 signatures and staged a read-in outside the mayor's office.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed layoffs and reduced branch hours in his 2012 budget. Many aldermen fought the plan before they voted on a final budget, and because of that, Emanuel agreed to alter his proposal, vowing to lay off fewer employees and restore millions in funding.

Although he held firm on the original plan to close the libraries on Monday and Friday mornings, the mayor agreed that the closings would not apply during the 19 weeks when school was out. But that plan changed.

This week the Chicago library announced on its Facebook page that branch locations will now be open Tuesday through Saturday and closed on Mondays.

The mayoral press secretary tells the Chicago Sun-Times that closing for two-and-a-half days was "contingent upon the union agreement to give us increased flexibility in scheduling. We are talking to the unions, but haven't reached an agreement yet."

The city continues to talk to unions about keeping the libraries open six days a week and says those talks are making progress. The mayor's office says they are talking with AFSCME and "the conversations are productive." Emanuel's office says they have a plan for keeping libraries open six days a week and are seeking cooperation from the union to make that happen.

Emanuel spokeswoman Tarrah Cooper said, "As part of the City's 2012 Budget, the Chicago Public Libraries are instituting an eight hour reduction in hours at all branch libraries, which allows the City to keep all branch libraries open, providing the greatest amount of access to the greatest number of Chicagoans. As Mayor Emanuel said, a plan to keep branch libraries open six days a week relies on agreement with unions to allow for a more flexible schedule. The City is in communications with the union but haven't yet reached an agreement on this issue. For that reason, while Harold Washington Library and the two regional libraries will remain open seven days a week on the current schedule, going forward, branch libraries will be open five days a week, closed on Mondays, and open Tuesdays through Saturday.

"Additionally, we are talking with AFSCME and the conversations are productive. We have a plan for keeping libraries open six days a week and are seeking cooperation from the union to make that happen," Cooper said.

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