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Residents Rally, Raise Voices Over Dramatic Budget Cuts Proposed For Niles-Maine District Library

NILES, Ill. (CBS) -- There was a lot of anger in Niles Tuesday night over proposed budget cuts at the Niles-Maine District Library.

A rally was held Tuesday evening at Nico Park in Niles taking issue with a proposed library budget that would impose drastic cuts on building hours, staff, and even money for new books, among other things.

"They seek to make drastic cuts that would be a disaster for our library. They claim that the community doesn't need and doesn't want – doesn't care about the services we provide. But they are wrong. Our community does care – am I right?" Niles-Maine District teen services librarian Donna Block at the rally. "The library is all about the community, and this board wants to cut the programs that serve you all."

Block identified some of the services and items up for cuts as children's librarians visiting schools, the teen audiovisual collection, service hours for the library's teen space, and outreach deliveries for nursing homes and homebound people.

Block also said staff are worried about losing their jobs or losing most of their hours.

"They're cutting the salaries of our lowest-paid and most vulnerable employees, while keeping management salary levels the same," Block said.

Illinois state Sen. Ram Villavalam (D-Chicago) and Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago) also each attended and spoke at the rally.

"We're not going down without a fight, and let me just tell you – I get inspired by looking out across this field here, because I see grandkids, I see kids, I see parents, I see people that are older – I see a coalition of people that depend; that use the library – because it is a fixture of our community; because everyone can go there and feel welcome – the number of resources, the services, the access – that's what our library should be about," Villavalam said.

"Libraries are for everybody – and when we say everybody, we mean everybody," added LaPointe. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that we have serious problems with inequity and stratification here, across the nation, and in Chicago, and on the Northwest Side and the northwest suburbs, and the last thing we want to do is take away a critical piece of community like our library or make it harder to access."

The library board also held a budget hearing Tuesday night in which numerous speakers made public comments – with some raising their voices or even using profanity.

At the hearing, one man called the budget cuts an attack on working-class and low-income families who are predominantly people of color – whose interests, he said, are not represented on the board.

"This is a public library. This is a space for progress, not industry. This is our space, not just yours," he said.

Niles resident Liz Marfia-Ash took issue in particular that the library had cut back its hours to 54 per week, with the board members' reasoning for the move being that most people now buy books on Amazon. Marfia-Ash said indeed she does buy books on Amazon, but that does not mean the library has no purpose anymore.

"Sometimes there are books I need to read that I don't want to own. Sometimes I need to use the color printer at the library. I bring my kids to get books. My 12-year-old likes to rent out Nintendo Switch games or old Japanese Godzilla movies," she said. "And to be perfectly honest, with three kids in my house, sometimes I want to come to the library for some peace and quiet."

One Niles teen noted that she had been an avid reader growing up while her mother worked three jobs – and there was no way her mother would have been able to afford all those books if she had been buying them on Amazon.

"Judging by how many people out there are against you versus how many people are here to support you, you're clearly not supporting the community – so whose boots are you licking and how good do they taste?" the teen said.

A final vote on the budget is set for Wednesday night.

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