Walking through the doors of the Edgewater Library, the first thing you notice are the books, piled a foot high on counter tops and crammed into more than a dozen carts. Hundreds of tomes are stacked anywhere but on the shelves at this small, one-room branch of the Chicago Public Library.
"If the books aren't on the shelves, they're harder to find. ... [library users] just can't get their books as readily because they're not there," said Betty Barclay, president of Friends of the Edgewater Library. "There's a wonderful staff at the Edgewater Library, and they work as hard as they can. But of course there aren't enough of them."
The job of stocking books on shelves goes to library employees called pages. But in mid-July, Mayor Richard Daley -- who could not get the union that represents library employees to agree on budget cuts -- fired nearly half of the 279 pages. As a result, some libraries were left without any pages for a month and a half, forcing upper-level library staff to find time out of their days to put books away. The library system shifted the remaining pages on Sept. 1, giving each branch at least one staff member to shelve books.
But that doesn't help small branches with extremely high circulation, such as Edgewater or the Bucktown- Wicker Park Branch, which each lost one of their three pages.
On an early September day at the Bucktown-Wicker Park Branch, books were piled high on most of the tables in the children's section. Bucktown resident Jeanne Isaacs walked into the branch with her 1 1/2 -year-old son for the first time in six weeks -- since before the layoffs -- and was so disgusted she walked right back out.
"It looks terrible in there," Isaacs said. "I don't think he needs to be in a cluttered environment when I'm trying to get him to be calm and look at books."
The library cuts came in the wake of a standoff between Daley and the city's unions over proposed pay cuts to help balance the budget.
The librarians' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Teamsters were the only two unions in the city that didn't take the pay cuts, and as a result, 431 city workers from the two unions were let go.
Of those laid off, 120 were library pages, by far the biggest group to be fired. That number stands in stark contrast to a quote from Daley printed in an annual report from the Chicago Public Library.
"If you cut funding to libraries, you cut the lifeblood of our communities," Daley was quoted as saying in the 2007 report.
But library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer denies the layoffs are a funding cut to the library.
"Yes, it hurts, absolutely it hurts us. But it isn't something where the city made targeted cuts on specific departments. this is something where everybody was asked to take furloughs to help close the budget gap," Lednicer said. "That union chose not to make the concessions to keep the jobs."
Union officials say that none of the city workers needed to be laid off and that they offered City Hall their own plan, though they wouldn't release it publicly.
With the economy in recession, people need city services more than ever, and the library's cut doesn't make sense, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said.
Some of the smaller libraries have been coping with the changes. Humboldt Park branch manager Andrea Telli said that although there may be less time for planning library events and community outreach than before, the staff has been making do.
"I think that we've weathered the storm pretty well here just because all of my staff here was pretty willing to pitch in and shelve the books," Telli said. "As librarians, we know that we still have to make things as orderly and as findable as possible."But she acknowledges that higher-circulation branches could be really feeling the cuts.
"We really can't compare to places like Bucktown-Wicker Park or Edgewater" that might be circulating twice as many books as the Humboldt Park Branch, Telli said. "I think a lot of branches are feeling really overwhelmed, which is great on the one hand, because libraries are really being used, and we're busier than ever."
Chicago branch libraries find budget cuts stacked against them
Books pile up because there's no longer anyone to restack them
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