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State budget woes could hurt suburban library system
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/12/2010 2:24 PM | Updated: 5/12/2010 2:54 PM

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The state government's inability to promptly pay its bills will result in layoffs and service cuts at a wide-reaching suburban library organization, officials said Wednesday.

More than half the employees of the North Suburban Library System, a cooperative organization serving about 650 libraries in Cook, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties, will lose their jobs by May 30, spokeswoman Judy Hoffman said.

Exactly how many of the group's 20 full-time and five part-time workers will lose their jobs is not yet known, but "there are definitely going to be massive layoffs at the end of May," Hoffman said.

"Much is still in the works, but that is for sure," she said.

Hoffman is among those who will be out of work, along with longtime NSLS Director Sarah Long, although it wasn't immediately clear if Long will be laid off or retiring.

Long could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but she sent an e-mail to local library leaders saying she was leaving her post.

Programs will be cut, too. Although a popular delivery service that allows libraries to share materials will remain, efforts such as the Chicago Wolves Read to Succeed program, which rewarded kids for reading with hockey tickets and other prizes, could disappear, Hoffman said.

The Museum Adventure Pass program, which offered free or discounted admission to local museums, could fold, too, Hoffman said.

The Wheeling-based library system is one of nine regional library organizations operating in Illinois. They help local facilities share resources and information.

DuPage County has its own system, as does the Chicago Public Library. All of the systems are affected by the state's financial woes, but not all are taking the same drastic steps this month, Hoffman said.

A spokesman for the DuPage Library System could not be reached for comment.

The organizations are funded through the state budget by the Illinois State Library and the Secretary of State's office. This fiscal year, the groups are supposed to share $15 million, about 17 percent less than last year's total, officials have said.

However, the groups are still owed millions for this fiscal year, which ends in June, officials said.

Of the roughly $2 million the north suburban group was supposed to get from the state this year, it's still owed nearly $900,000.

Without program cuts and layoffs, the NSLS will be out of funds in July, Long wrote in an e-mail to the group's members.

"I am confident that we have done everything possible to turn this situation around," Long wrote. "Unfortunately, we have run out of options."

The NSLS board is next scheduled to meet May 24, but a special meeting is being planned to discuss the proposed cuts, Hoffman said.