New Evanston Public Library director Lyons ‘excited’ as position officially begins Monday

Audrey Cheng

Evanston Public Library’s new director began working Monday in the midst of the library’s transition to a new funding model.

Karen Danczak Lyons was appointed March 7 at the Special Board Meeting, during which the library board voted unanimously in her favor. Prior to accepting the EPL position, Lyons served as the first deputy commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and was Chicago’s budget director before joining CPL.

Lyons said Friday the skills she obtained from her past experiences will positively affect her role as EPL’s director.

“I think one of my strengths is in listening to people, facilitating conversation and problem solving and framing questions and issues in a way that provokes some creative thinking,” Lyons said. “Those skills will really help when we re-imagine public library service in Evanston.”

Lyons’ appointment to the job coincides with EPL’s transition to fiscal independence from the office of the city manager.

EPL board members voted earlier this year to allow the public library board, instead of the city manager, to be the final authority in library-related decisions. Lyons said she is supportive and excited for the change.

“We will still be a public library that services the city, but we will have a lot more independence and discretion over our budget and decision-making and how we provide service,” Lyons said.

Lyons will be leading the transition team along with two library board members, two city council members and city manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

EPL board member Benjamin Schapiro said Lyons was a great candidate because she imbibes the exact qualities EPL needs to accomplish the board’s goals.

“I think she will apply the same managerial skills that she demonstrated for the city of Chicago,” Schapiro said. “I think having some professional management will be a great help to us.”

Lyons said although there are similarities between the Evanston and Chicago libraries, the libraries are fundamentally different in scale: CPL has 79 locations and EPL has two. But despite the smaller scale of the Evanston library system, Lyons said she doesn’t see her new job as a downgrade.

“I think it’s a really once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come and work with a strong city manager and a strong library board to help the library with its transition,” Lyons said. “I see it as an opportunity to look at new service models, look at what works and what can be improved and build upon a strong foundation that serves Evanston.”

Lyons said she is looking forward to implementing the library’s three-year strategic plan, adopted in September 2011. The plan cites the library’s goals, which include developing neighborhood services and outreach, adopting emerging technologies and improving fundraising.

“I’m looking at new partnership opportunities and making sure we’re providing service in a way that is meaningful,” Lyons said.

EPL board member Leora Siegel said Lyons will be an asset to all Evanston residents and business owners.

“She is dynamic and innovative and really understands how people use and need to use libraries,” Siegel said. “She has many wonderful and new ideas that she will bring to Evanston.”

Lyons said she hopes to partner closely with Northwestern.

“I want to hear from the students and the faculty there on how Evanston Public Library can support your learning and support your discovery and recreation as well,” Lyons said.

Lyons is succeeding EPL’s interim library director, Donna Dziedzic, who declined her EPL director nomination in order to return to retirement.

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