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Save Niles Library

#LoveTheDove

We are not OK.

During the June 18, 2021 Special Board Meeting the anti-library bloc (Carolyn Drblik, Olivia Hanusiak, Suzanne Schoenfeldt, & Joe Makula) forced the resignation of Executive Director Susan Dove Lempke. We learned this after an unprecedented and painful 4-hour closed session during which library staff waited and waited. (video) Susan has served this community for 23 years and began her career at the Niles-Maine District Library in the Youth Department where she expanded access to storytimes and developed relationships with dozens of area schools. She will be sorely missed for sure and the community and library staff are reeling from this tragedy imposed upon us.

While we are taking time to mourn this loss, we cannot forget what is still at stake. The final version of Joe Makula’s scrawled up budget has been posted and will be voted on at the July 20th Board Meeting.

  • The budget includes $450,000 in cuts to staff, mostly from the lowest pay grades. The remaining staff are expected to make up the work, which will mean a reduction in other services.
  • The library’s open hours will be cut back from full operating hours (70) and even what they are now (66) to pandemic levels (54). 
  • All outreach to schools and nursing homes is eliminated. 
  • The trustees are still considering the corrupt contract with Steven Yasell, despite his lack of qualifications, apparent inability to pass a background check, and the existence of another less expensive proposal from a qualified professional. 
  • Budgets for books and other materials are cut further than the already low levels from the pandemic. 

We are making plans for the July 20th meeting and hope you can join us. But no need to wait until then, here’s what you can do in the meantime. 

  • Spread the word! Print out signs for windows (color, black & white), chalk savenileslibrary.org outside your house
  • Let us know if you are planning to go to the 4th of July parade. We want to get as many people as possible along the route wearing buttons or stickers and cheering on the librarians. If you’d like to participate, please contact us or send us a message through social media. 
  • Utilize the library! Check out books, and attend programs. The trustees have been using the low checkouts and visits from the pandemic to justify many of these cuts. Let’s show them that this community needs and uses its library.
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Save Niles Library

Library Unionizes, Fight Continues

In the month of June quite a lot has happened already, and there’s yet another Special Board Meeting scheduled for Friday, June 18th. This one is for an Executive Session so most of it will be held behind closed doors and the trustees may or may not bring anything back to vote on when they return from that closed session. Public comments are allowed for those attending in person who sign up when entering before the meeting begins, or can be submitted via email by 5:30 PM to Executive Director Susan Dove Lempke at slempke@nileslibrary.org 

The great news that came out on June 14th is that the employees of Niles-Maine District Library are forming a union with AFSCME! Read about it here:
Niles-Maine library employees form union with AFSCME

On June 14th the board also held a special board meeting to review the budget, where they were supposed to come to an agreement, though it was difficult because Joe Makula showed up with his own budget document that he sprang on everyone at the meeting without anyone else being able to see it in advance. Joe’s verison came not only with a column added for his cuts, but with typos and some new amounts that he couldn’t explain or describe when asked, so everyone had to wait until June 16th to find out whether the cuts were really so deep that the board planned to cut many library workers’ jobs or some or none.

June 16th was the regular monthly meeting of the board, though as with all of the other recent board meetings there were many irregularities. After an attempt by the new trustees to move public comments to the end of the meeting was abandoned, the public saw our letter-writing campaign make a difference, as one of the in-person commenters was Niles Mayor Alpogianis. He urged the trustees to work together and build bridges not walls, and pointed out that people see what’s going on, that the board is arguing about things like moving public comments (and he recommended they bring a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order to their meetings), and that there is a lot of chatter that doesn’t sound good. His own 5 children have used the library hundreds and hundreds of times and he would drop them off at the library and he felt safe, that a library is supposed to be a safe place (clearly making reference to Joe Makula’s strange complaints about children going to the library after school without their parents).

We also noticed that former Maine Township trustee David Carrobatta , who appears to be advising Carolyn Drblik, has been allowed by her to interject from the audience throughout recent meetings. On Wednesday he made clear that schools are coming up on their hit list, and we noticed that he said the quiet part out loud regarding firing library staff, with his “Cut staff? Boy I hope you do!”  Cruel and heartless.

The “up to” $1,500 disbursement to Steven Yasell was tabled without any explanation. For now we’ll take that as a win. To date 102 letters have been sent through our letter-writing campaign ”Reject the Corrupt Contract”, and the Mayor of Niles indicated in his public comment that he’d received over 150 emails, calls and texts from people who are concerned about what has been going on at the library. But we’re keeping an eye on this, as the board may just be biding time in hopes that we’ll stop paying attention.


Right now, the cuts to our library’s staffing is where we are focusing our attention and concern. At one point Trustee Drblik said that she didn’t think we were talking about cutting jobs, just cutting dollars. But when cutting payroll dollars it does mean either cutting staff or cutting their wages. She has suggested more than once that if things change later in the year that they can revisit and adjust the budget, but that’s really not an accurate representation of how budgeting works, and it’s extremely unlikely they’d go through the great deal of work involved in increasing the budget mid-year. So it’s important to make sure our voices are heard between now and the July 20th 6:30 PM meeting when the final budget for the next fiscal year will be voted on.


We’ll be keeping you informed if the board adds any more special meetings this month, and sharing actions you can take in July to support our library and the library workers our community depends on.

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Save Niles Library

A New Proposal

We have a new development regarding the corrupt contract the Niles-Maine District Library Board railroaded in.

As you may know, recently we launched a letter-writing campaign to send 50 emails to the board of trustees and the Mayor of Niles to “reject the corrupt contract” the new trustees awarded to their campaign videographer Stephen Yasell of “Yissilmissil Productions”. We’re glad to report that we exceeded that and extended the goal to 100. Despite the public outcry, and staunch objections from 3 of the 7 trustees, the board appears to be proceeding with the corrupt contract.

In our last blog entry we spoke about the way the board has been mangling the budget process. Journal & Topics also recently wrote a piece outlining the various cuts: Deep Niles-Maine District Library Budget Cuts. While this process and proposed cuts are alarming we are still wondering what happened with the Yasell contract. It was never mentioned in the budget meetings so we were compelled to request this information using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the proposal.

Turns out there were two proposals. One was, as expected, from Stephen Yasell, Film Director at Yissilmissil Productions on May 18th, a day before the new trustees were sworn in. The other was received on May 26th from a Business Architecture Transformation Specialist with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Security and Forensic Investigation, a qualified expert!

The Yissilmissil Production proposal was open-ended with no estimation of time (“as needed”) with a service rate of $100 per hour. When challenged regarding that, library Trustee Carolyn Drblik flippantly mentioned capping the contract at $1000. But on what data was that determined?

Proposal by Yissilmissil Productions

The Business Architecture Transformation Specialist actually specced out an estimated 32 hours with a total of $960.

Proposal by a Business Architecture Transformation Specialist

For anybody who has been watching some of these recent meetings you’ll know how the trustees have been scrutinizing bids and micromanaging the library to shave money off the budget. Somehow this suddenly escapes their purview.

After all we learned from the library staff during the budget workshops is this contract even necessary? If so, shouldn’t we go with a qualified professional at a fraction of the cost?

Let it be known that this is not acceptable in our community! (see below)

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Save Niles Library

ACTION ALERT 6/14 & 6/16/2021

At the June 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Budget Workshops (videos here), Niles-Maine District Library’s department heads presented their proposed budgets for the next fiscal year (July 1 through June 30). As members of the community, we learned that days before these workshops, a copy of the Library’s proposed budget was marked up with lines drawn through many items. A FOIA request got us access to the marked-up budget document trustee Joe Makula and Board President Carolyn Drblik surprised department heads with before the budget workshops.

After many public commenters explained the impact of the proposed cuts to outreach programs for school children and senior citizens, it seemed like Board President Drblik might be reconsidering those cuts. If you don’t want to see the new board’s proposed cuts to hours of operation, purchasing of new books, loaning of technology, or any of the other cuts and notes on the document linked above, speak out now before the board’s upcoming votes.

Opportunities for action:

  • Attend the meeting: 6/14/21 6:30 PM budget meeting at 6960 W. Oakton St. This is where trustees will discuss the budget for next year. Extreme cuts have been proposed by Carolyn Drblik and Joe Makula, and we assume that, as with every other action the new board has taken so far, that Olivia Hanusiak and Suzanne Schoenfeldt will go along with whatever they say.
    • If you would like the trustees and community to hear your concerns, when you enter the Commons Meeting Room (arrive before 6:30) sign in not only on the attendance sheet but also on the list of people who would like to make a public comment.
    • We’ve noticed that the library website’s information on how to submit a written public comment keeps disappearing and reappearing, so we can’t tell if they are considering removing the ability to submit public comments in writing. Usually if you send an email marked as a public comment by 5:30PM on the day of a meeting to slempke@nileslibrary.org, the comment will be read into the meeting (if there is time after the in-person comments have been spoken).
  • Send an email to all of the trustees, and CC the library’s Executive Director and the Mayor of Niles.
  • Attend the meeting: 6/16/21 6:30 PM regular monthly board meeting at 6960 W. Oakton St.

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Email List Save Niles Library

[EMAIL] Niles Coalition Progress & #SaveNilesLibrary Action Alert

We’re so excited about all of the support and interest from those of you in the community who’ve signed up for our NilesCoalition mailing list! If you want to be more involved in where we focus our attention as a group please let us know so we can set up a time to meet before our next big meeting. Just respond to this email and we’ll be in touch!

We also have two actions you can take as we work together to #SaveNilesLibrary:

  1. ✉️ While our public comments and letters to library board trustees have been making a difference, the fight is far from over. The new trustees are awarding their campaign videographer access to the library systems for $100 an hour. This blatant corruption must be challenged. Please take a few minutes to contribute to this letter-writing campaign and put the board on notice! We have a handy lil’ easy-peasy tool right here for you: https://www.nilescoalition.org/2021/05/28/reject-the-corrupt-contract/
  2. 🗣 If you’re able to submit a written comment by 5:30 pm on the day of a meeting or make a comment in-person at any of the upcoming library budget workshops this Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday at the library that will be a great way to make sure your voice is heard! Here’s the information about those meetings so you can see which day will cover subjects that you want to comment about (for example, Digital Services and Materials Services on Wednesday; Adult, Teen, Youth, and Outreach Services on Thursday): https://www.nileslibrary.org/board-trustees . If you have any questions about how to do this just email us and we can help!

One of our community’s most cherished resources is in jeopardy, and this is a symptom of larger looming issues. It is time to unite and make a stance for justice!

Sign up to our email list.


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Save Niles Library

Reject the Corrupt Contract!

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Email List Save Niles Library

[EMAIL] #SaveNilesLibrary Update: 5-24-2021 Board Meeting

Hello World!

Bet you’re here to keep tabs on the Niles Coalition’s #SaveNilesLibrary campaign, and that’s SUPER awesome! Thanks for signing up! We formed as a group relatively recently to fight for a more inclusive community here in Niles, Illinois. But the catalyst happened when the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate saw community concern after their Open Letter to Niles Police Department.

We’ve learned a LOT since then and are so excited to create a more inclusive community. There are a lot of wonderful efforts happening that are not always apparent. We hope to bring more awareness, celebrate, and double down on these things. The Niles-Maine District Library is definitely on this list.

Now the library is facing an existential crisis. But this is not an isolated incident by any means. The fight is happening in communities all around us as well. Together we will fight for our library and in solidarity we’ll fight for our neighbors’ as well! If you feel the same way and want to get involved in the work please let us know and/or share this message with folks in your network who are allied in the cause.

And now onto our most recent update!

Update: Library Special Board Meeting 5-24-2021

#SaveNilesLibrary Organizer faces the hostile library board speaking truth to power.

Thank you to all of the community members who came out to bear witness to and express their concerns at Monday’s extremely long Special Meeting of the Library Board of Trustees. A handful of the new trustees’ supporters came early to grab most of the spots for public comments, but our presence let the board know that their anti-library actions don’t represent the community and we will continue to hold them accountable. While we wait for the board’s official minutes to be written and approved, here is some of what we saw and heard:

#SaveNilesLibrary Organizers take a selfie.

  • The contract with Steven Yasell was approved, despite the dissent of the 3 pro-library trustees and many attendees due to the obvious conflict of interests (since he was their campaigns’ videographer) and lack of experience performing audits of IT equipment and procedures (only in the last couple of days did he add a list of services on his website that make it look like he does consulting work – archived link here). Here is Jennifer Johnson’s reporting: Niles Library board votes to hire man, but some trustees object to conflict of interest, unknown qualifications
  • When the board was informed that raising the employees’ cost for their health insurance as high as Joe Makula suggested would actually cause the insurance company to drop the library’s plan altogether, he and the other trustees in his bloc voted to raise the cost as high as they were able to.
  • The trustees who were pushing for a freeze on building improvements and purchasing seemed to contradict each other at times, so exactly which building improvements and new purchases were suspended through June 30th is not entirely clear. A hiring freeze was put in place that prevents replacing much-needed staff members who left the library in the last year.
  • We are still trying to understand all of the changes made to the trustee manual and will be able to comment on this more once we can read the minutes.
  • In the Executive Session, the Executive Director and Assistant Director were excluded from the session but were not fired as many of us had feared. Instead a new lawyer was hired. When the trustees returned to the public meeting details were not shared beyond the name of the lawyer and their firm, so we’ll keep an eye out for more information.

A message written in chalk on a wall that reads Save Niles Library .org.

We’re taking a minute to breathe and then we’ll be sharing more about what you can do to #SaveNilesLibrary. In the meantime please help spread awareness and share this email with friends, family, and other supporters.

Thanks for reading!

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Save Niles Library

Update: Library Special Board Meeting 5-24-2021

Thank you to all of the community members who came out to bear witness to and express their concerns at last night’s extremely long Special Meeting of the Library Board of Trustees. A handful of the new trustees’ supporters came early to grab most of the spots for public comments, but our presence let the board know that their anti-library actions don’t represent the community and we will continue to hold them accountable. While we wait for the board’s official minutes to be written and approved, here is some of what we saw and heard:

#SaveNilesLibrary Organizers taking a selfie wearing facemasks that read #save niles library.
  • The contract with Steven Yasell was approved, despite the dissent of the 3 pro-library trustees and many attendees due to the obvious conflict of interests (since he was their campaigns’ videographer) and lack of experience performing audits of IT equipment and procedures (only in the last couple of days did he add a list of services on his website that make it look like he does consulting work). Here is Jennifer Johnson’s reporting: Niles Library board votes to hire man, but some trustees object to conflict of interest, unknown qualifications
  • When the board was informed that raising the employees’ cost for their health insurance as high as Joe Makula suggested would actually cause the insurance company to drop the library’s plan altogether, he and the other trustees in his bloc voted to raise the cost as high as they were able to.
  • The trustees who were pushing for a freeze on building improvements and purchasing seemed to contradict each other at times, so exactly which building improvements and new purchases were suspended through June 30th is not entirely clear. A hiring freeze was put in place that prevents replacing much-needed staff members who left the library in the last year.
  • We are still trying to understand all of the changes made to the trustee manual and will be able to comment on this more once we can read the minutes.
  • In the Executive Session, the Executive Director and Assistant Director were excluded from the session but were not fired as many of us had feared. Instead a new lawyer was hired. When the trustees returned to the public meeting details were not shared beyond the name of the lawyer and their firm, so we’ll keep an eye out for more information.
Chalk on a wall that reads # Save Niles Library.

We’re taking a minute to breathe and then we’ll be sharing more about what you can do to #SaveNilesLibrary. In the meantime please help spread awareness and share the link to this post with friends, family and other supporters.

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Save Niles Library

ACTION ALERT 5/24/2021

Please join us on Monday May 24th 6:30pm and the Niles-Maine District Library! Read more about the issues here.

Action
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Save Niles Library

Intro: #SaveNilesLibrary


Books in multiple languages
In the Village of Niles alone, 55.7% of persons 5 years of age or older speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2015-2019 US Census Survey. The Niles-Maine District Library also includes a large portion of unincorporated Maine Township. At East Maine School District 63, which encompasses much of the unincorporated area within the library district, 80% of the students speak a language other than English at home. Research has shown that reading in your native language actually improves your ability to learn to read in English. The library provides books for education and pleasure to people reading in English. It would be unfair to deny books to taxpayers who read in other languages, especially languages spoken by large numbers of people in the community. To deny this to people on the basis of the language they speak is a form of discrimination. 

Yet, this is exactly what library trustee Joe Makula suggested the library do at a candidate forum held during the last election. Asked how he would make the library welcoming to the diverse community, Makula replied, “We should concentrate on people learning English because that’s the language here. Instead of stocking up on books in seven different languages, if we got people to assimilate and learn English better, I think we would do more good than increasing our inventory of foreign language books.”


Unlimited no-bid contract at $100/hour for their buddy
Just days after the new trustees were sworn in, they awarded their campaign worker Steven Yasell an unlimited contract to “Evaluate, Assess and Inventory for (sic) Library Equipment, Systems and Operations”. The professional staff of the library already do that as part of their jobs. If the trustees still believe there is a need for a consultant, there are professionals that provide audits for businesses, non-profits, and government agencies, but their friend is not one of them. He usually handles wedding photography and videography. There is no way he can provide an independent and transparent assessment of the library. This is the definition of corruption and a waste of taxpayer money. 


Repairs to the building
The library is badly in need of repairs to its roof. Experts that assessed the roof warned that another winter might lead to collapse. There are other libraries that have not made necessary repairs to their roof and suffered greater damage and costs when they collapsed. This is why the former board dedicated much of its time to researching the issue. They went through a formal bidding process, looked at a green roof option (which turned out not to be cost effective), and settled on a contract for about $17/square foot. This kind of repair is expensive and the new trustees took advantage of the price tag to scare voters. The new trustees have claimed, despite hours of presentations from experts, that the repairs are unnecessary and too expensive. Putting off these repairs or failing to do them at all puts the library at risk of a crisis, potential damage to furniture, books, and other material, repairs that exceed the cost of fixing the roof, and even a potential lawsuit. Similar objections were made to the cost of fixing the library’s phone system, which also covers internet access. Experts have explained that it is on the brink of collapse and could leave the library with no phones or internet access without notice. Again, the new trustees have objected to spending money on this until there is an emergency. We believe that it is better fiscal policy and customer service to address repairs before there is a crisis. 


Your tax dollars
The library is only a fraction of your tax bill. Even if major cuts were made to the library budget, it would have a minimal impact on the taxes you pay. For example, if $1 million was cut from the library budget, the average household in Niles would only see a reduction of about $40 a year. This is because the vast majority of your tax dollars go to the village and the school districts, with budgets that dwarf the Niles-Maine District Library. While the trustees have been fighting needed repairs to the library roof and phone system that together cost under $1 million, the village spent $27 million last year on updates to street lighting and a new police facility. The only people that will be impacted by cuts to the library’s budget are the people who love and rely on its services.

 
The library is popular with comparatively high levels of use compared to similar libraries
The pandemic has had a big impact on the library and the way it’s used, but before it was a busy and well-used community resource. The data below comes from a database created by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (imls.gov) called “Search & Compare.” It brings data together from every library in the country. We selected for suburban libraries in Illinois that have only one building and that have a total revenue within 1 million of ours. Niles has some of the highest levels of circulation, reference questions answers, and program attendance. 


During the campaign, trustees tried to convince voters that the library was not being used, because only 25% of residents have a library card. It’s important to know that 25% still represents over 14,000 people. Cardholders are also not a good measure of use. It’s common for a family with multiple members to use one card and there are many ways to use the library without a card. That’s why professionals also look at program attendance, circulation, and reference questions. 

Why it’s important to include non-cardholders
At first, it might seem normal for the board to limit services to residents and cardholders. But this is actually a very harmful and not at all ordinary limit. Our community extends beyond the limits of the district and our residents may have barriers to getting a card, but still need the services at the library. Most libraries recognize that it is to the benefit of their patrons to be open to residents of other communities, which is why anyone who lives here can also use the libraries in Skokie, DesPlaines, Park Ridge, and other suburbs. Here are a few examples of times when we clearly want someone without a library card to have access to the library:

  1. A parent may rely on family from a neighboring suburb to watch their children. The collections and programs should still be available to the children, even if grandparent, aunt, or babysitter is with them.
  2.  Because the school districts and library districts don’t align perfectly, there are students from multiple libraries in one school. It wouldn’t be practical or useful to our residents to serve some students in a classroom and exclude others.
  3.  Some teenagers have parents that are unable to come to the library to sign them up for a library card due to their work schedule or other factors. And teens often don’t have the necessary ID and paperwork. We still want them to be able to access the space, homework help, and programs to enrich their learning. 

    These are just a few examples, but they help highlight the importance of making as much of our materials, programs, and resources as accessible as possible.