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Standing up for public libraries
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 10/6/2009 12:01 AM

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Forgive us if we're pushing the season a bit, but since retailers invoke Christmas at this early date, we will, too.

That's because we've come across the perfect Scrooge, an Ebenezer who can match the fictional Dickens character down to the last humbug.

He's Constantine "Connie" Xinos, an Oak Brook attorney. Xinos, who recently ripped into an 11-year-old who spoke at a village meeting, floated the idea of closing or privatizing the public library because the village needs to "stop indulging people in their hobbies."

We've previously championed the need to return to civility in public discussions. Xinos, grinning that "he wanted that kid to lose sleep" after the 11-year-old spoke up for the library, could be the poster boy for those who confuse plain speaking with blatant bullying.

There's a kernel of truth in the message behind his meanness: Public libraries cost a lot of money. And in these tough times, it's right to reduce expenses for the libraries just as for other tax-supported services. But Xinos hasn't done any favors with his insistence that those who want books can go hang out at Borders.

Xinos unsuccessfully sued to block construction of the library in 2002. He lost his bid for election to the village board but worked to elect others who agree with him about the library. Three full-time staffers, including the head librarian and children's librarian, and two part-time staffers were laid off. Talks of privatizing or closing the library went on. And library staff sought out the Teamsters, seeking to unionize. We can't blame librarians for wanting protection in the face of such hostility. But one thing's certain - negotiating library contracts with the Teamsters isn't going to save the village any money.

We take issue with comments (from Xinos again) that library work adds up to "wiping tables and putting books back on the shelves." Libraries are a vital and valuable resource for communities in troubled times, providing job-hunting and skill-building resources, developing reading skills for kids whose parents no longer have the budget for tutors, serving up cultural events without an admission fee and creating a gathering place for people in the community.

Many people recognize the value, said a nationwide survey in which 78 percent of respondents characterized libraries as essential for the entire community. The 2005 study by Public Agenda with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also showed that library circulation increased 41 percent from 1990 to 2002; that one-third of those surveyed had used the library for Internet access even though 80 percent of the public has daily Internet access at home, work or school; and that the tech-savvy are more likely to be heavy library users.

We side with the 11-year-old library fan and applaud her example. Barring midnight visits from any Dickensian ghosts, it'll take a lot more citizen involvement to dilute Xinos' rhetoric and figure out how the library fits into Oak Brook's future.