EPL Friends to open separate library outpost

Grace Johnson

Although the Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees declined the Evanston Public Library Friends proposal to staff and provide services for a new South Branch location, EPL Friends plans to move ahead with its plan.

Last week EPL Friends began work on the new location, 900 Chicago Ave., the day after the board decided they did not have the funds necessary in their budget to support the new location. The EPL Friends Outpost will provide limited services using the support of volunteers and donated services, Friends member Lori Keenan said.

“We were a little surprised and definitely disappointed,” Keenan said. “We just decided that we have a lot of people counting on us to do what we said we were going to do, which is to maintain a space, so we went ahead with plan B.”

Board President Christopher Stewart said while the board supports the efforts of the Friends, a clear distinction needs to be made between the forthcoming outpost and the Evanston Public Library system.

“We have to be very clear with the community that this is not a public library facility,” he said. “That being said, we are excited about the Friends’ efforts, and it’s likely the library will do programming there.”

The design of the outpost, created in a volunteer effort by Studio Talo Architecture, plans to accommodate a small collection in an attempt to continue providing services to the south side of Evanston, where there has been a library presence for nearly a century, Keenan said.

The outpost has been coined “The Mighty Twig” by the Friends, Keenan said.

“It’s smaller than a branch, but it’s growing, and there’s lots that can happen with it,” she said.

The South Branch’s lease at its current location, 949 Chicago Ave., expired Saturday. The branch closed due to a lack of funds allocated to the library in the city budget. EPL Friends proposed a plan to the board to fund a temporary location for the South Branch until the end of the year.

“We couldn’t make the money come out of nowhere,” Stewart said. “The sources of funds we would have had to pull from would have taken from the endowment, the book sale and other funds that we already had earmarked.”

In the budget for this year, there is $45,000 left for neighborhood services, which include funding for both the North and South branches. This amount would not have covered the $57,600 needed for staffing, as well as an additional $3,000 needed for Internet and other technology services, Stewart said.

While the EPL board will evaluate a budget for the next year late this summer, Stewart said it’s unclear whether or not the board will be able to fund a South Branch location in the future.

“We are operating on tight financial parameters,” he said. “We are looking at ways of delivering neighborhood services throughout Evanston for the next year, whether those include facilities in the South or not.”

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