Over the last few years, things have looked grim for the William Leonard Public Library in south suburban Robbins.
In 2009, sluggish cash flow nearly shuttered the district library – that also serves the town of Dixmoor. But thanks to lifelines from the town’s elected officials and one of Robbins’ native sons the doors remained opened. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-1st, was able to get the library a federal grant, the state provided a grant and NBA basketball star Dwayne Wade donated $25,000 to the library through his Wade’s World Foundation. Those funds resuscitated the library then, but its financial shortfalls continue, library director Priscilla Coatney told the Chicago Citizen.
Adding to the library’s woes, this summer thieves gutted one of the rooftop air conditioning units and removed its copper wiring and other inner parts which rendered it inoperable. It is believed the thieves scrapped the metal for cash at a recycling center. The other unit was pierced with six bullets.
The library, located at 13820 S. Central Park, serves as a community cooling center for its approximately 6,000 residents and as the temperatures soared into the high-90s and 100s in July, Coatney knew the library would be needed. But on July 6 she thought the air conditioning had just gone out. One unit was old but the other unit was fairly new, purchased with a grant secured by Secretary of State Jesse White and state Rep. Will Burns. By July 9 she found out someone had damaged the units.
Coatney said the library had insurance on the air conditioners but couldn’t afford the deductible required to have them fixed. Again, Coatney received help; this time from two local HVAC companies.
D.M. Dykstra, of nearby Crestwood, replaced the dismantled unit and put an alarm on it. Homer Glen-based G.T. Mechanical repaired the other bullet-riddled unit. Their generosity was estimated at about $10,000 to $12,000 each.
“It was a great, wonderful thing” that both companies did for the library, said Coatney.
She rues that the library has such financial trouble because she said the facility is a resource to the surrounding community in many different ways. Coatney called it a haven for the children of the small town – one of the poorest in Cook County – and a place where adults can go for computer literacy and other cultural programs. She said monthly she “squeaks by” to pay the library’s bills and meet the payroll. The library has an anticipated annual budget of $441,000. Only a fraction of that gets funded and Coatney needs $25,000 to $30,000 per month to stay afloat, she said. Closing is always prevalent in her mind.
“I’m always on the edge of us closing, financially, because our community is distressed. The library operates on tax dollars and unfortunately in this community we only collect 60 percent of our property tax dollars,” said Coatney. She said with forty percent of people not paying their property taxes coupled with a lack of local businesses (to add to the tax base) it makes for fiscal turmoil for the library.
Currently, the library has enough money to get through the end of the year but Coatney expects to be in “crisis” mode come January.
Money has not flowed from some of the sources that came to the library’s aid in the past. The director said Rush has not been able to secure federal dollars lately for the library and the county has continued to be slow to send disbursements from the taxes that do get collected.
The library’s book collection includes 29,000 books but a lack of funds keeps the library several strides behind technology. Coatney can only dream about offering such newer things like e-books for the popular e-readers, or even shoring up the library’s DVD collection. The library does have laptops patrons who utilized the free Wi-Fi offered there.
“I want to bring us up to the 21st century,” said Coatney, a retired educator who agreed to be the library’s interim leader for a six-month stint. Nine years later she is still in the role.
The library is having a major fundraiser next month. Coatney hopes that the “Jazzing at the Leonard” will bring an infusion of cash and attract some of its famous former residents – like Wade and actress Keke Palmer – to reach out.
The money would be used to keep the library’s doors open.
By Rhonda Gillespie