Evanston Public Library Friends raises funds in support of branch libraries

Amie Ninh

Despite a notice from the city earlier this month that it would cancel the lease on the South Branch Library in August, fundraising group Evanston Public Library Friends will continue its efforts to raise $200,000 to keep the North and South Branch libraries open through March of next year.

The City Council originally decided to cut funding for the branch libraries in order to close a $9.5 million budget deficit, but it recently granted the library and its supporters six months to explore sustainable funding sources. In a notice issued earlier this month, however, the city announced it would cancel the lease for the South Branch Library, 949 Chicago Ave., on August 9.

In response to the lease cancellation, EPLF is looking into alternative space for the library and has announced it will pay the rent through September if necessary.

As of March 1, EPLF had raised more than $60,000 through pledges, family memberships and other contributions, EPLF President Emily Guthrie said. The group must raise an additional $120,000 by August 31 to keep the libraries open temporarily-a figure that does not include the rent of the South Branch.

“It’s one more hurdle,” said Lori Keenan, vice president for the organization. “We’re getting used to hurdles, but I’m optimistic. We’ve really had a lot of enthusiasm and support.”

The lease cancellation may complicate the organization’s fundraising because it may deter people from donating, Keenan said.

“It would have been nice to be given some heads-up that the city was doing this,” Keenan said. “There could have been better communication all around.”

The cancellation does not mean EPLF will stop fundraising, Keenan said. This month it began its first fundraising event-an ongoing Read-a-Thon geared toward children.

For the fundraiser, children keep a log of how many minutes they read, and sponsors can pledge a certain amount of money in total or for specific time increments.

For example, a sponsor might pledge five cents for every 10 minutes a particular child reads.

Evanston resident and Northwestern alumna (Communication ’98, The Graduate School-Communication ’00) Jen Preschern, who came up with the idea for the Read-a-Thon, said the main goals were to increase children’s excitement about reading and show families care about the branch libraries.

Preschern, who uses the North Branch at 2026 Central St. at least twice a week, said she hopes at least 100 kids will sign up.

“If you’re willing to commit your time and money, then that sends a message and raises awareness of the cause,” she said. “The Main Branch does not have the same intimate feeling that the North Branch does.”

The fundraiser will end April 17 during National Library Week, with a celebration and donation party at all of the libraries.

With additional fundraising underway, Guthrie said the $200,000 goal is now looking more attainable for the organization.

“We’re actually surprised because we didn’t expect to be this far,” she said.

After the Read-a-Thon, future fundraising events will include a virtual auction in May, a concert in the summer and a poetry slam in the fall.

“We knew there was support out there, but we didn’t expect to have this volume of interest and activity from people,” Guthrie said. “It convinces us we’re on the right track.”

To sign up for the Read-a-Thon, pick up sponsor sheets at any of the libraries or obtain a form online at eplfriends.blogspot.com. [email protected]