The Library is Severely Understaffed
In May 2021 the anti-library bloc of trustees implemented a “temporary” hiring freeze. A year later, more than 25 staff have left the library. Not a single person has been hired to replace any of them, meaning unstaffed desks, longer lines, and reduced programs and services.
For a library district our size, the Illinois Library Association recommends a staffing level of 70 FTE (full-time equivalent). As of June 2022, Niles-Maine is down to 53 FTE. The board has maintained its arbitrary hiring freeze in spite of pleas for more staff from the former and current executive directors.
Just a few of the youth programs canceled due to lack of staff:
- Book Buddies volunteer program
- Potty Training Storytime
- Story Times at the Park cut in half
- Writing for Real
- 4th Saturday Family Movies
Anti-Library Trustees Repeatedly Violate the Law
The Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau has found multiple instances in which trustees violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act. Violations include trustees discussing in closed session subjects that should have been discussed in an open meeting; not approving meeting minutes in a timely manner, some months late; and improperly shielding their personal accounts and devices from searching for records responsive to FOIA requests.
In December 2021, the board was told by the State Librarian’s office that they never received any notification of the trustee vacancy that had existed since August, in violation of the Illinois Public Library District Act. Secretary Suzanne Schoenfeldt never explained why she had neglected to make this required notification.
Board president Carolyn Drblik has repeatedly gaveled down residents attempting to make public comment at open meetings, in violation of their First Amendment rights. The executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center was compelled to address the board on this issue to educate them about the constitutional right residents have to address their public officials.
Anti-Library Trustees Waste Taxpayer Dollars
As of the end of April, the board had already spent $113,000 in legal fees, 283% of the budgeted amount. Much of this was spent resisting FOIA requests (see above), as well as fighting the newly formed staff union. Trustees Drblik, Makula, and Schoenfeldt claim to be concerned about wasteful spending, but in fact are incredibly fiscally irresponsible.
Valued Staff Are Being Driven Away
Innovative, talented staff have resigned in direct response to the havoc wreaked on the library by Trustees Drblik, Makula, and Schoenfeldt. These staff spent many years building the library into a nationally recognized institution, and the library is diminished without them.
Susan Dove Lempke worked for the library for 23 years, first as a children’s librarian and later as executive director for 6 years. She also served on the prestigious Newberry Committee, which selects the books honored as distinguished contributions to children’s literature. Under her leadership, the library received numerous awards, including being repeatedly recognized as a Star Library by Library Journal. She resigned in June 2021.
Greg Pritz joined the library in 2013 as Assistant Director and Business & Operations Manager. He improved the library’s accounting records and consistently received praise from its auditors. In 2020 his work was recognized with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association. He resigned in December 2021.
Suzy Wulf started as the library’s first Digital Services Supervisor in 2015, when she helped launch the digital media lab, circulating technology collection, and maker space. She also worked to strengthen the library’s place in the community, serving as First Vice President of the Niles Chamber of Commerce Board. In 2021 she was honored as the Ken Scheel Chamber Member of the Year. She resigned in April 2022.
In June 2021 a broad group of community leaders led by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky signed an open letter to the board, supporting the employees and opposing cuts to library services and staff. “We are proud that the Niles-Maine District Library provides valuable services to our community, and we are dedicated to ensuring that those vital services continue,” the leaders’ letter begins. “Unfortunately, the newly elected Library Board’s recent actions appear to place those services in jeopardy,” citing proposed cuts to library hours, programs, and outreach services, among other issues.
People and organizations that have spoken out against the actions of the Trustees:
- East Maine School District 63 Board of Education
- Dr. Scott Clay, Superintendent of District 63
- Niles School District 71 Board of Education
- Dr. John Kosirog, Superintendent of District 71
- Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky
- State Senator Ram Villivalam
- State Senator Robert Martwick
- State Representative Marty Moylan
- Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin
- Parishioners of St. John Brebeuf
- AFSCME Local 31
- Mayor of Niles George Alpogianis
We support the Niles-Maine District Library and its mission to engage, inform, enrich, and educate our community. We believe everyone should have access to books, technology, and programs no matter what language they speak, where they come from, or how much money they have. We believe the library building must be maintained. We believe it is reckless to wait for a crisis to fix a problem, and that saving for the future is fiscally sound. We believe in the professional ability of the librarians and staff to maintain the collection and implement appropriate services. We believe the library is more than a warehouse of books and plays a central role in bringing the community together through its programming and outreach. We believe the library is worth fighting for.