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Emanuel proposed budget would cut library hours

Neighborhood libraries like the Chicago Bee Library, might have hours cut. Photo by Jennifer Zipser.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his first budget proposal on Wednesday to the City of Chicago since his electoral promise to erase a $635.7 million deficit.

The first-year mayor wants to save the city $7 million by cutting library hours on Monday and Friday mornings. The budget will also double water and sewer fees as well as put a $2 dollar congestion tax on downtown parking.

“A budget is about priorities. And this deficit is an opportunity to get it right. We can either start shaping our city’s future, or let it shape us,” said Mayor Emanuel, according to the city’s press release. “We’re facing a deficit if $635.7 million. Smoke and mirrors and one-time fixes simply won’t get the job done. It’s time to provide Chicagoans with an honest city budget – one that focuses on current needs while still investing in our future.”

The city has more than 70 public libraries in Chicago area that reach from Evanston all the way to Dalton, according to the Chicago Public Library website. The library commissioner declined to comment and referred questions to the mayor’s office. The mayor’s office did not respond to emails seeking information.

The budget cuts will not only cut library hours but will cut jobs. The budget proposal includes more than 500 total layoffs that will be effective first of next year. The budget will also eliminate more than 2,000 vacant positions, according to the City’s press release.

The library cuts were not received with open arms. According to NBC Chicago’s online poll, 68 percent of Chicago locals are furious about the shortened library hours.

Shauntae Smith, 26, a graduate of Devry University, said library hours should not be cut. “People need the library as a source to find jobs, so why cut down the hours,” Smith said as she left the Chicago Bee library on State Street.

Libraries could become the next dinosaur in the internet apocalypse. Electronic devices like Amazon’s Kindles, which download full length books and newspapers, are putting libraries into people palms, and the Chicago library has started offer e-books.

“I know that a lot of kids are here during the day. They’re learning here and they love this library,” said Shonda Wilson, 42, a frequent visitor of the Chinatown branch. “Cut what you have to for the debt, but I’m sticking this one out for the kids.”

Brian Adams, 25, said he also was concerned.

“I am more of an evening guy for libraries, but for the people who go in the mornings, it’s an issue,” he said at the Chicago Bee library.

For people living in the digital deserts of Chicago’s South and Westside, public libraries are a place for locals to check email, apply for jobs and for students to do research projects.

“It’s sad that they have to cut library hours, but I would rather it be this than something that threatens safety and wellness” said, Vin Mao, 38, a life-long resident of Chinatown.

Emanuel’s proposal also includes $238 million in investments and financing that will allow the city to subsidize redevelopment in neighborhoods.

Graphic by Jessica Green. Data Source: City of Chicago

Chicago has more than 650 public schools. Most days last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would not be effected by the libraries shift in hours.

Kouvonia Johnson, 20, was opposed to the shortened library hours until she considered it would only affect mornings. “I don’t have a problem with it. Students already have school at that time–unless they need to use the computer,” said Johnson, while she used the Internet on her laptop.

Emanuel’s budget proposal was presented to the City Council yesterday morning. It must be approved by Dec. 31, according the state’s statue.

“People come on Saturday mornings, so I don’t know what they’ll do instead.” said Talo Sun, 23. “The library is just as busy in the evenings as it is on weekends or mornings, so as long as they don’t cut both ends it should work out.”

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