Evanston Public Library presents results of 2021 “listening sessions” about the library’s future


Daily file photo by Madison Smith

Evanston Public Library. The library held a series of listening sessions in late 2021 where residents described what they’d like to see for its future.

Christina van Waasbergen, Reporter

Evanston Public Library presented community suggestions for potential changes to the library Thursday in a Community Shareback event.

In a series of “listening sessions” that ran from September to December 2021, Evanston residents provided feedback on their hopes for the library’s future. Nearly 200 residents participated in the sessions, which were hosted in collaboration with the consulting firm Strong & Starlike, according to the library’s website. Through these sessions, the library sought to improve its equity, diversity and inclusion, to build relationships with the community and to reimagine its future.

Strong & Starlike CEO Tisidra Jones presented the ideas discussed during the sessions at the Shareback event.

“(We asked questions about) what people care about within their community, what are they concerned about, but also thinking about what are some things that the library could do, what are some things that they could do and other community organizations, institutions and assets,” Jones said. 

Jones said participants discussed how the library could make materials accessible to people who lack transportation and how it could help with language and technology accessibility. 

To increase accessibility, participants proposed creating a bookmobile to bring materials to people with limited access to transportation. They also suggested the library could rent out laptops and have Wi-Fi hotspot vending machines. 

Additionally, Jones said participants wanted the library to engage in increased outreach and provide information for people who need support for things like mental health issues, substance use disorders or lack of food access.

In terms of community engagement, Jones said participants indicated they wanted the library to create a space where the community can gather, and they wanted more community conversations about the library. She said participants also expressed a desire for the library to “(go) where people are” and for it to exist “out of its walls” by providing library services at places like parks.

Nevertheless, the library has made progress, Jones noted.

“A number of people did comment that they had seen the library in the community more over the past year and appreciated that,” she said.

Karen Danczak Lyons, EPL’s executive director, presented on actions the library has taken to address some of these recommendations, including some taken prior to the sessions. These included helping with reparations applications, aiding in the job search process, providing technology and support to seniors, hiring more diverse staff, building new library branches and getting rid of library fines.

Ron Dwyer-Voss, a consultant and trainer with Pacific Community Solutions, talked about asset-based community development. He said the library can partner with individuals, associations and institutions in Evanston in a way that would “allow there to be more than the sum of the parts.”

“There’s only so many staff that can be employed by a library at any given time,” Dwyer-Voss said. “But there are lots and lots of residents who can offer things to the library.”

Danczak Lyons said the goal of the community feedback process is to form deep relationships grounded in trust and respect. 

“I hope you’ll see, and we will demonstrate again and again this evening, that we care about everyone,” Danczak Lyons said. “We’re listening to everyone. We’re going to hold ourselves accountable. We’re going to keep having these conversations because this is how we create the future we want together.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @cvanwaasbergen

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