(This story has updated from an earlier version to include a comment from a library spokesperson)
The Chicago Public Library laid off 176 pages and clerks this week and announced on its Facebook page this that it will close its 75 branches on Mondays.
The layoffs result from the library’s attempt to deal with a cut of $6.7 million to its operating budget. The closure of the branches on Mondays reverses a position that had been taken during the budget negotiations that would have still reduced service hours at the branches from 48 to 40 hours (down from 64 hours a week two years ago), but would have closed the branches on Monday and Friday mornings.
Deputy mayoral press secretary Jennifer Hoyle said the change was necessary because negotiations with AFSCME Council 31, which represents library workers, have not been fruitful.
“Closing for two half-days, rather than one full day was contingent upon the union agreement to give us increased flexibility in scheduling,” Hoyle told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We are talking to the unions, but haven’t yet reached an agreement. For that reason, in the meantime, the branch libraries will be closed on Monday.”
However, Anders Lindall, an AFSCME spokesperson, told LJ that blaming the reduction in service hours on the union was a red herring.
“It’s really a manufactured controversy,” Lindall said. “What we are worried about, and what the people of Chicago are worried about, is not having reduced access to their libraries at all,” he said.
Lindall said that the union’s focus in the negotiations with the city is not how best to divvy up an eight-hour reduction but how to get the city to rescind its decision to lay off 176 library employees (including all the pages).
The union has a website called Keep Chicago Working with information about the cuts to city services, including the library.
The Monday closures will not affect the downtown Harold Washington Library, the Sulzer Regional Library or the Woodson Regional Library.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato, a critic of library cuts, was not happy with the new changes.
“I’m very disappointed in that,” Sposato told the Chicago Tribune. “We need our libraries. It’s one of the free things we have in the city. The seniors need it. The students need it.”
Ruth Lednicer, the library’s director of marketing and press, said the goal was to return to being open six days a week.
“We are hopeful that the ongoing union talks will end up being productive,” she said.