Daily file photo by Allie Goulding
In an effort to reach local residents, the Evanston Public Library has placed two dozen free book distribution centers around town.
Residents can grab free books at various locations, including businesses, train stations and barbershops. Each distribution center passes out about 700 books monthly and also includes flyers for library events and initiatives.
Mariana Bojorquez, the Latino outreach librarian at EPL, said the primary goal of giving away free books is to reach residents who usually can’t make it to the library in-person. Beyond books, Bojorquez hopes to raise awareness about other resources at the library, including citizenship classes or computer education.
“It’s just one way that the library can help,” Bojorquez said. “We have all these different resources for people, and this is my way of being able to go into the community and let them know we’re here.”
In particular, Bojorquez is focused on expanding the presence of Spanish language resources at the library. She travels annually to Guadalajara, Mexico, where she orders books in Spanish that are harder to find in the U.S.
Book giveaways coincide with other community events. Every second Tuesday of the month at the Robert Crown Community Center, EPL has a table at Producemobile, a Greater Chicago Food Depository initiative where people can pick up fruits and vegetables for free. In November and December, during Mayor Steve Hagerty’s Holiday Food, Book and Toy Drive, EPL anticipates giving away more than 3,000 books.
Bojorquez works with other library staff, like Jill Skwerski, the engagement services manager at EPL, to run free book giveaways. For Skwerski, helping families is a particularly important goal because it helps set children up for successful futures.
“(The goal is) to provide access to books,” Skwerski said. “We’re immensely committed to helping kids develop early literacy.”
Library assistant Jeff Balch, who oversees the free book distribution program, said keeping book distribution stations up and running requires a set of committed volunteers as well as public donations. Books that aren’t donated come from within the library when staff weed their shelves for old or unpopular titles. EPL also partners with Have Dreams, a local nonprofit serving autistic children, teens and young adults, and their members serve as volunteers to transport boxes of books.
In the coming months, EPL intends to expand the initiative with new free book distribution centers in Evanston’s 8th and 9th wards. To Balch, this is a natural continuation of one of the library’s primary goals.
“Get books into the hands of folks who otherwise may have a harder time getting them,” Balch said.
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