Chloe Haskins tries to keep warm as library supporters protest service cuts and layoffs

With help from her father, Roger Guerrero, Chloe Haskins tries to keep warm as library supporters protest service cuts and layoffs in front of the Bucktown branch of the Chicago Public Library today. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune / January 23, 2012)

Drivers honked horns and whistled in support as about 50 people huddled, waving signs, in front of the Bucktown-Wicker Park Library on a chilly Monday morning to protest reduced library hours at Chicago Public Libraries.

Protesters held signs such as "Restore funding," "People's library – not mayor's" and "Honk if you love libraries," demanding the city to reinstate full schedules for libraries.

After weeks of negotiations, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Saturday that the city's 76 branch libraries will reopen most Monday afternoons starting Feb. 6 and that he will hire back 65 of laid off workers.

But the libraries will still be closed most Monday mornings, and 107 library workers will remain laid off.

"The mayor took a step in the right direction," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal EmployeesCouncil 31. "But people want their libraries fully opened and fully staffed. Not some closures and some layoffs."

The Monday morning demonstration was one of three that were organized by the library employees’ union, AFSCME. The other two protests were held in front of Little Village and Beverly neighborhood branch libraries.

Lindall, whose daughter Greta, 5, stood nearby with "I love my library" sign she made, said each branch library plays a vital role in its neighborhood besides being a community center and a gathering spot for local groups.

"It's a safe haven for people who don't have much," said Norma Sotelo, one of the protesters.

Sotelo, who has worked in libraries for 16 years, said teamwork is essential for a library to work properly; when that many people are laid off, it affects everyone.

"It's just hard to try and make the community better when they're trying to take away so much,'' said Sotelo, who works as a librarian at Mabel Manning Library.

Because of budget shortfall, cuts had to happen, Lindall said. But with the recent mayor's announcement, only about $1 million is keeping Chicago's libraries closed, he said.

"If we prioritize our libraries and place the importance people place on them," he said, "that gap can be closed."

achachkevitch@tribune.com