Evanston Public Library seeks to expand collection


Sherry Li/The Daily Northwestern

Books sit on a shelf at Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. Library officials aim to expand the library’s collection next year to help increase resident visitation.

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Evanston residents visit the city’s public library less frequently than residents in nearby communities, according to data reported by the library that has spurred officials to try to add more materials to Evanston Public Library’s collection.

In Evanston, residents averaged about nine library visits each in 2014, compared with about 12 visits per Skokie resident and 15 visits per Oak Park resident, according to data sent by library officials to City Council on Oct. 29 and later made public. The primary reason for that disparity is the size of library collections, said EPL assistant director Paul Gottschalk. Constraints on EPL’s budget prevent the library from buying as many bestsellers or DVDs as other institutions, Gottschalk said.

“We don’t have as much of what people want,” he said. “Our collection just is not as high quality as other locations, and we’re working to change that.”

The library’s 2016 proposed budget includes a nearly 5 percent increase, in part to purchase more materials and establish a pilot program to provide patrons with immediate access to materials over the Internet.

In Illinois, funding for libraries comes mostly from property taxes. While the average Evanston resident paid about $80 in property taxes for the library, the average resident in Skokie and Oak Park paid about $200 for their respective libraries.

EPL also receives a state grant for collection development amounting to about $94,000 per year, but this year’s funding is missing due to the state’s budget impasse, Gottschalk said. Illinois has been without a budget since the beginning of its fiscal year on July 1, resulting in missing funds for local governments and some social services organizations.

In addition to a smaller number of library visits compared with nearby communities, EPL patrons also check out fewer items. Last year, Evanston residents checked out nearly 18 items fewer on average than Skokie residents.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said another reason for lesser library use in Evanston could be the lack of accessibility of library space to the entire community. The EPL has a main branch located downtown at 1703 Orrington Ave., as well as a north branch on Central Street and a south branch near Main Street.

“As far as just being able to go to a library space or building, it’s a lot harder,” Wilson said. “If you draw a diagonal line through the city, the libraries are on one side of the diagonal line.”

To help alleviate this divide, there have been ongoing conversations among community leaders to include a library space in a redeveloped Robert Crown Center located about one mile west from the library’s south branch, he said.

However, Connie Heneghan, an EPL staff member who works in neighborhood services, said the library already places a strong emphasis on outreach to the community. Heneghan said she attends a meeting of senior citizens at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center each week, bringing library materials that individuals can check out remotely.

Those sorts of off-site outreach opportunities — which play a major role in the library’s mission — are not counted in library visitation data, Gottschalk said.

Although the smaller scale of EPL’s collections may require a visitor wait to check out a sought-after bestseller, the library aims to use it money to provide a wide variety of people with what they’re looking for, Heneghan said.

“I know that we don’t have as many of some of the popular titles as other libraries do,” she said. “But in terms of supplying a diverse community, we want to spend our money in a way that serves as many people as possible.”

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