Mayor Rahm's grand experiment: Libraries without librarians



Ive made a huge mistake.
  • Ramzi Dreessen/Sun-Times Splash
  • "I've made a huge mistake."

As we all know, Mayor Emanuel came to Walter Payton high school last month to announce his latest big idea for public education.

Standing in front of a bookshelf in the library, he announced he'd magically discovered $17 million to build an annex to Payton, enabling the north side school to add 400 extra students in the coming years. But what the mayor neglected to mention is that the library in which he was staging that very press conference had no librarian because of his budget cuts.

Apparently, it's all part of Mayor Emanuel's larger initiative to turn libraries into backdrops for his press conferences.

Hold it! Let's be clear. Technically, the mayor did not get rid of Payton's librarian. Instead, in his latest round of school cuts, he sliced about $700,000 from Payton's budget. Thus forcing Payton's principal, Timothy Devine, to do the dirty work of getting rid of 19 teachers.

As you can see, being the boss means you get to break the good news while making your employees break the bad news.

In any regard, by the time Devine was done juggling the roster, Payton's librarian was teaching Spanish and a teacher's aide was stationed in the library to check out books.

That's a step up from Von Steuben. As you may recall, over the summer that north-side school announced budget cuts would force them to replace their librarian with security guards.

Thus freeing up a chemistry teacher to guard the parking lot. Just kidding, folks.

But back to Payton. Let's take a moment to appreciate the sheer awesomeness of Mayor Emanuel's audacity. The dude cuts the librarian but keeps the library. Which he uses as a backdrop—I believe it was the science reference section—to brag about spending $17 million to expand Payton, when he doesn't have enough operational money to properly fund the school he's got.

It's like he's some sort of neutron bomb that explodes in such a way as to preserve the building while annihilating everyone that's in it.

I e-mailed principal Devine to see how the mayor's grand experiment in a librarian-less library was working, but he didn't get back to me.

For the record, I can't blame Devine for the cuts. Like principals throughout CPS, he's trying to juggle his budget until the budget-cutting madness passes, and Chicago goes back to investing, not divesting, in public education.

It's not quite clear what Mayor Emanuel has against libraries. In his first budget he proposed to cut their hours at neighborhood branches. In March, his minions tried to yank Persepolis off the shelves at school libraries, over the protests of the librarians.

Maybe he's on to something. Perhaps books, libraries and librarians are as obsolete as my old flip phone.

For another perspective, I called a high school librarian, who told me: "Good librarians do more than check out books. They build the library's collection. They decide what books to purchase. Additionally, they teach students how to do research. That might be their most important function. They teach people how to be critical thinkers."

As opposed to your typical Chicago voter who has his head up his . . .

Sorry, that was uncalled for.

But now that I think about it, I see a collateral benefit for Mayor Emanuel in getting rid of librarians. Conspiratorially speaking, of course.

Well, anyway, as long as I have your attention, Payton parents, allow me to tell you where the mayor's spending the money that he might otherwise use for your school's librarian.

Go to the corner of Cermak and Michigan and look around. That's where the mayor intends to spend at least $92 million in property tax dollars buying up land so he can build a basketball arena for DePaul and a Marriott hotel.

Ninety-two million would pay for a lot of librarians. Not to mention a chess team or two and even some toilet paper.

I know I can't expect the mayor to end his South Loop fantasy cold turkey—that would probably make him break out in a cold sweat.

But how about this, Mr. Mayor? Stop holding press conferences in school libraries that have no librarians because of your massive budget cuts. It's bad enough you're bankrupting our schools—you don't have to rub it in our collective face.

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