Niles library to host free fandom convention

Niles Library Board of Trustees looks at financial data.

By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle

A comic and pop culture convention is coming to Niles – and, unlike the big events in Chicago and Rosemont, it’s completely free.

The Niles Public Library held several events called “Fandom Fest” in the past. But this is the first time it will hold a full-fledged convention, complete with a special guest, an artist alley, vendors who sell merchandise and opportunity to cosplay. It is planned for Saturday, Aug. 19, from 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The library administrators got an idea after hearing of similar events at other Chicago area libraries. Ultimately, they hope to create an event that would be family-friendly and fun; and that they would be able to do more such events in years to come.

Fandom conventions are almost as old as fandom itself. Some are geared toward specific niches – Chicago’s own Anime Central, for example, is geared toward fans of anime, manga and Japanese culture in general. Others have broadened their focus over the years – what is now known as Wizard World Chicago Comic Con started out as purely a comics and collectibles convention, has since expanded its to include science fiction and fantasy television shows and movies, as well as other pop culture fandoms. Others, such as Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, catered to a broad array of interests from the get-go.

The conventions tend to feature guests, artists and writers who sell their work, vendors who sell merchandise and celebrity guests. Guests are welcome to cosplay (dress up as characters), and some cosplayers have even become popular enough to get booths of their own.

According to Sasha Vasilic, Niles Library’s Public Relations and Marketing Supervisor, the library held several events called “Fandom Fest” over the years. Originally aimed at kids, its focus gradually shifted toward the teenagers. And while all of them gave younger patrons an opportunity to celebrate their hobbies, this year will be the first time the fest will be a full-fledged convention.

The idea was a brainchild of library’s Technical Services Supervisor Victoria Luz and Youth/Teen Services Supervisor Arienne Carey. They were at an Illinois Library Association conference, and they heard about other libraries doing library comic cons.

“There was in interest from staff, and we heard other libraries had success with it,” Carey told the Bugle.

Luz added that Eisenhower Public Library, which serves Harwood Heights and Norridge, was one example from the Chicago area.

In the end, the two developed an event that includes trivia contests, creative workshops, a cosplay parade, vendors and some special guests – Chicago horror host Svengoolie and some members of the local garrison of 501st Legion, a fan group of Star Wars enthusiasts who are often be seen at conventions and other events dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers. Luz also told the Bugle that there would be an art exhibit.

“[Art] can come from [library] staff, it can come from professional artists, it can come from patrons,” she said.

Carey emphasized that the event must be family-friendly, and the art and the costumes will have to reflect that.

Vasilic said that the library hoped to use the event to promote items from its print and digital collections that would appeal to patrons who would attend fandom conventions.

While conventions tend to charge admission fees, Fandom Fest will be completely free. Even vendors, which normally pay fees, will be able to exhibit for free – at least this time around. As library director Susan Lempke explained to the library board, the fee is based on what kind of profit vendors would expect, and since they don’t know what kind of crowd they would get, they thought it would be better not to charge anything.

“We thought we wouldn’t ask for a fee this year, but maybe next year,” she said. “Next year, we’ll have a nice headcount.”

Niles library approves preliminary budget for next fiscal year

The Niles Library Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to approve the tentative budget for the next fiscal year.

The trustees will hold a public hearing and the final vote on the budget during its June 21 meeting. In the meantime, the budget will be available to the public at the library, both online and in printed form. Once approved, the budget will start in July 1 and run until June 30, 2018.

As always, the budget comes with two sets of figures – the budget numbers themselves, which reflect how much money it is expected to spend, and the appropriation, which reflects how much money it would be able to legally spend. As Greg Pritz, the library’s business manager, he difference is there just in case the library winds up getting more money than it expected, or if it faced some unexpected expenses. In recent years, the library’s policy has been to set appropriations at twice the budget numbers. Pritz noted that the library rarely wound up spending as much money as appropriations – and even then, only with certain funds. Furthermore, he noted that the amount of money the library will get will depend on how much money it will collect in taxes and investments.

The tentative budget allocates $3,398,728 for salaries, $1,377,200 for employee health and retirement benefits, $759,500 for physical and digital materials, $359,663 for processing and supplies, $264,869 for administration and general office expenses, $212,083 for utilities, and $212,083 for building and maintenance expenses. Special reserves are expected to have $48,000, and a total of $343,857 would go in various special funds for items such as audit expenses, liability insurance, workers compensation, unemployment coverage and social security payments. The library expects to receive about $45,477 in grants.

During the meeting, trustee Tim Spadoni suggested raising trustee expense item, which falls under the administration and general office expenses, to allow trustees to attend out-of-town conferences, increasing it from $4,000 to $6,000.

Trustee Carolyn Drblik argued that, between salaries and benefits, $5 million out of $7.4 million went toward employee-related expenses – which, she argued, was disproportionately high.

“I’m just saying out salaries, out compensation are 70 percent of our budget, it’s high,” she said. “And we haven’t looked at where we can reduce spending anywhere.”

Trustee Linda Ryan, who works as a librarian at Maine South High School, noted that librarians need to earn a masters degree to get a job – and that the income they earn is actually less than masters degree holders can expect to get in private sector.

“We’re very competitive [at the Niles Library],” she said. “We are not the highest paid, but we are not the lowest.”

Trustee Patti Rozanski noted that, when patrons contact the library, it’s usually about how helpful the librarians were to them.

“Having consistent staff that patrons get to know and appreciate – to me, that’s huge,” she said.

The third edition of Illinois State Library’s Trustee Fact File for library trustees specifically warns that employee-related expenses tend to be the biggest budget items.

“Because libraries are service-driven organizations, expenses associated with obtaining and keeping competent, qualified staff will be the largest entry in the accounts ledger,” it stated.

In the end, Drblik wound up voting against the ordinance. Trustee Dennis Martin, who was sworn in at the beginning of the meeting, voted for it with a caveat.

“As long as it’s just tentative and we have time to make changes, I’ll go with ‘yes’,” he said.



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