Girl Scouts protest library cuts
December 1, 2011
Girl Scouts protesting cuts in library hours at the Roosevelt Branch garnered much public support. (Photo by Troy T Heinzeroth)

Twenty members of the Taylor Street area’s Girl Scout Troop 51178 staged a miniature version of the Occupy movement by protesting plans to cut hours and services at the Roosevelt Branch Library at 1101 W. Taylor St.

For several hours on a blustery Nov. 9, the Andrew Jackson Magnet School pupils carried signs urging the City to “Save Our Library Hours,” reminding passersby that “We Need Books,” and calling places like the Roosevelt branch not libraries, but “life-braries.”

Passing motorists honked, passersby cheered, and library patrons waved as they went in and out of the building. “I’ve seen a lot of support so far today; people seemto be responding well,” said Jennifer Wilson-Fojo, founder and leader of Girl Scout Troop 51178, which meets twice a month at Roosevelt — something Wilson-Fojo said could change easily if officials cut Roosevelt’s hours and services any further.

Even non-profit groups such as Girl Scout troops have to pay $70 an hour to meet at the library, Wilson-Fojo noted. “We might be OK because we’re meeting in the afternoon, but the preschoolers will be affected,” said Carolyn Alessio, whose daughter Charlotte Manier is a member of Wilson-Fojo’s Scout troop. “Often their parents will bring them to the preschool programs and then take them to the library.”

Like many of her nine- and ten-year-old classmates, Manier had made a sign and wrote a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, and Ald. Daniel Solis (25th Ward) asking that libraries get a budget cut reprieve.

“Our library has already cut hours,” said Manier, who hopes to become a fashion designer. “It would only be open a couple of hours a day if they cut anymore. A lot of kids depend on the library for research. Computers are fine, but they will never completely replace neighborhood libraries” like Roosevelt, she said.

“Everyone wants to read,” added Sadie Wilson Voss, a future librarian decked out in a merit badge sash and carrying a “Save Our Library Hours” sign. “We have a lot of readers in our school.” The protest was “a good way for the girls to learn the duties of citizenship while they’re working on their merit badges,” Alessio said.

“They’re bright girls, and Andrew Jackson School is a place that asks a lot of questions about the world. The kids come from all over the city. My daughter’s best friend comes from Bronzeville. There are others from Bridgeport and Pilsen. When my daughter asks about the Occupy Wall Street protests, I can explain the difference between a peaceful protest and something that can get crazy.”

Pleased as she was by the signs of public support, Alessio said she would have been surprised if there had not been a lot of public enthusiasm.

“You know how Occupy Chicago is talking about the 1% versus the 99%?” Alessio asked. “Well, where the library is concerned, there’s only the 100%. Everyone is impacted. The girls will be growing up in a tough economy that’s not likely to be improving anytime soon. “They’ve got to start learning how to speak up in a respectful way. It may not be as sophisticated as some other protests, but we all made the signs together and we’re all doing this together,” Alessio added.

— Patrick Butler