Branch library breathing easy without budget fears

Breanne Gilpatrick

Marjorie Sobel has been coming to the South Branch of the Evanston Public Library for about 40 years, ever since she moved to Evanston in 1964.

It was the first library her two children ever used.

“I had kids growing up who used this branch, who could be independent users long before they could go downtown by themselves,” said Sobel, 72.

Now she uses the South Branch or the Main Library once or twice a week. “Every time I drive by, I stop in and get a book,” she said.

South Branch Library at 949 Chicago Ave. was built in 1917, making it Evanston’s oldest library. But over the past two years, the Evanston City Council has discussed closing the small, two-room library to help balance the city budget. When City Manager Roger Crum did not propose the cut this year, it meant new job security for employees and relief for South Branch regulars.

This news was a considerable relief to Sally Schwarzlose, branch manager.

“It’s much better to know the ground underneath you isn’t going to shift,” she said.

It also was nice to tell patrons the library was staying open, Schwarzlose said. People were encouraged when they saw the branch’s new paint job in early January. It was the first time the branch had been painted in the 10 years she had worked there, she said.

The Evanston Library Department had been planning to paint the South Branch for some time, said Neal Ney, library director, but plans could not be made while there still was uncertainty over the library’s continued operation.

The South Branch is the smallest Evanston library and has about 29,000 books, Ney said, compared to the about 400,000 books at the Main Branch, 1703 Orrington Ave. The North Branch, 2026 Central St., has about 40,000 books.

Schwarzlose said the South Branch’s smaller size gives employees a chance to know the patrons.

“It’s like Cheers, ‘The place where everyone knows your name,'” Schwarzlose said. “People tend to find a more personal experience.”

She said the library’s manageable size also makes it a good entry library for those not familiar with the library system.

When Christina Silva came to the United States from Brazil last year, the South Branch was one of her first experiences with an American library. The 27-year-old Evanston resident said she first came to the library for an English class and noticed the employees were patient and friendly, even when she didn’t speak much English.

“This is more like home,” Silva said. “You feel more comfortable.”

In addition to being more personal, the atmosphere at the South Branch also is more relaxed, said Branch Assistant Kara Massie, Communication ’03.

Although Massie has only worked at the South Branch for six weeks, she said she already has noticed a big difference between the branch and other libraries.

“There’s not as much concern about being ‘shhhh’ as there is at the Main Library and giving people stern looks,” Massie said.

Don Sackley, 61, said he first discovered the South Branch when he moved to Evanston 23 years ago. And though he said he doesn’t use the South Branch as often as the Main Library, he said he would be sad if the branch were to close.

“I’m happy they found the money to keep it open,” Sackley said. “I’d like to see it remain open indefinitely.”