The Library Survey: A Dog Waiting For A Pony


To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: “Here they go again.”

As reported in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, a recent telephone survey conducted by the Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University – one of the pollsters of choice for governmental bodies (especially public libraries) looking to construct “friendly” results – shows that “over two-thirds of respondents…expressed support for expansion of the library building at 20 S. Prospect Ave.” (“Survey says: Support is for bigger library,” July 17)

“Over two-thirds” of the 404 total respondents is approximately 270, allegedly drawn at random from a community of over 37,000 residents, including around 24,000 registered voters.  At a cost of $12,000, that’s almost $30 per response for what may not even be a “statistically significant” sampling, judging by the fact that we don’t hear anybody connected with it publicly bragging that it is.  So our initial reaction is that it wasn’t worth what we paid for it.

That seems even more true when one considers how “cooked” the results might be, judging from the slanted introductory statement read to the respondents before any questions were asked:

“The Park Ridge Library is currently at capacity. In order for the library to add new materials or services, it must eliminate other materials or services or it must expand the library facility. The Library Board of Trustees wants to learn what options residents favor or oppose regarding an expansion on existing library property to accommodate new materials and services.”

Talk about loading the question with buzzwords and phrases designed to strike fear in the hearts of the citizenry.  We’re surprised they didn’t just come right out and say: “We’re going to start firing people and throwing out your favorite materials tomorrow!”

But the real evidence of the deception at the core of this latest Library tactic is not what was said in that introductory statement but what was left out: The cost.  The Library Board and Staff, along with their accomplices at the Public Opinion Laboratory, didn’t need anything getting in the way of the “I want it” mentality they were trying to foster in the respondents,  including what may be the single most important factor affecting the spending decisions we make in real life. 

And if history is our guide, this $12,000 survey is just Step 1 in what will be at least a 3-step process to get a Library construction project going.  These “favorable” survey results can now be leveraged into the Library Board’s/Staff’s spending another $50,000 on Step 2, a “space needs” study, which in turn can give them the impetus to spend another big chunk of our taxes on architects/engineers to come up with some designs. 

Once they get to that point, don’t expect them to let the voters weigh in on whether to spend however many millions of dollars this new grand plan will cost.  They’re a lot more comfortable orchestrating a “yes” from 270 of 404 survey respondents than having to hear a “no” from 8,948 of 14,734 voters, as happened in 2002 when over 3,500 voters put the issue of a new library on the ballot through a citizens’ initiative after the Library Board/Staff and the City Council refused to do it themselves.

That’s why, despite already wasting $12,000 on a cooked survey and planning to waste another $50,000 on a “space needs” study that will recommend – “Surprise!” – a bigger library, Library Board vice-president Shlomo Crandus publicly dissembles with a proclamation that: “We don’t have expansion plans right now.”  We wonder if he said that with a wink, a nod, or with his fingers crossed behind his back.

With our country and our community reeling from skyrocketing energy prices, leaping inflation, a plummeting dollar, falling home prices and growing unemployment, spending $60,000-plus on something they claim they aren’t planning to do “right now” is as fiscally irresponsible as it is insulting to the taxpayers who are paying for it.  So we’re happy to give “credit” for this incipient fiasco where credit is due: The Library’s Executive Director, Janet Van de Carr, and the following Library Board members:

John Schmidt (President)
Shlomo Crandus (Vice President)
Margaret Harrison (Secretary)
Dorothy Hynous (Treasurer)
Eileen O’Neill-Burke
John Benka
Kathleen de Grasse
Patricia Lofthouse
Richard T. Van Metre 

And let’s not forget the man behind the curtain who appointed or re-appointed all of these Library Board members: Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, who has voiced his support for a new or bigger Library on several occasions. 

We see your dog, Mr. Mayor, but where are you hiding your pony?