Back in October, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a 2012 city budget that sliced city library branch hours from 48 to 40 each week, and threatened pink slips to hundreds of library employees.
Today the mayor announced an almost complete reversal of that proposal: The city’s branch libraries will return to year-round 48-hour weeks, including eight-hour Mondays. Additionally, the layoffs of 105 part-time employees has been reversed, according to Chicago Public Library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer.
The about face is a victory for AFSCME Council 31, the union representing the library workers. On this issue, the public employees union connected with the public: AFSCME members joined Chicagoans upset with reduced hours to protest outside branch libraries over the past year.
“The library campaign showed that when citizens who depend on public services join with the men and women who provide them, the voice of the people can still prevail,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31 in a statement.
The reversal of library cuts has been a three-step process.
First the Chicago City Council unanimously approved the budget in November with a change that undid 100 of the proposed CPL layoffs, resulting in 184 planned job losses.
Next in January, amid pressure from AFSCME and a few aldermen such as Scott Waguespack (32nd), Emanuel walked back a plan to reduce branch library hours to 40 a week through closing libraries all day on Mondays. Instead, the mayor proposed 44-hour weeks, with 4-hour Mondays. The city also restored 38 jobs at the time, according to Lednicer.
The third step is to result in the city bringing back 105 page jobs, part-time positions that primarily consist of shelving books. Lednicer says that the pages will provide branch libraries the flexibility they need to operate eight hours a day on Mondays.
Lednicer effusively praised new CPL head Brian Bannon for devising a plan to restore library hours. Emanuel appointed Bannon, former head of the San Francisco public libraries, in February.
All 76 of Chicago’s branch libraries are currently open 48 hours a week for summer hours. They will now remain open 48 hours a week going forward. Asked about the announcement’s timing, Lednicer said that, “Our summer hours were coming to an end soon.”
Branch libraries can arguably be viewed as a public space that gets vulnerable residents, like children, off the streets. But, Emanuel, who has tried everything from marijuana de-criminalization to calling out unsavory businesses in the fight against violent crime, did not offer this reason in a press statement. Lednicer also did not mention the idea.