Evanston Public Library halts digital hotspots, expands online e-books


Daily file photo by Madison Smith

Evanston Public Library changes its strategy to make e-books accessible by eliminating its hotspot locations and revising its online catalog.

Astry Rodriguez, Reporter

Evanston Public Library added thousands of books to its online download service this summer after shutting down its book hotspot devices in August. Under the revised program, clients can read and listen to books without a library card.

EPL released the first iteration of its online library program at the start of the pandemic, when an increased number of residents were interested in accessing books from home, Communications and Marketing Manager Jenette Sturges said.

The pop-up hotspots were strategically placed in four high-traffic areas across the city: Robert Crown Community Center, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Presence St. Francis Hospital and Erie Family Health Center. In these areas, people were able to access books through public hotspots and download them to a device without a library card.

EPL was among a handful of libraries across the country to open spots for “virtual libraries.” However, the library has now expanded their electronic library, which includes fiction, non-fiction, young adult and classics genres.

“The most important thing for us to focus on as a library organization is identifying the needs and the assets that exist already in our communities and hoping to meet and elevate (them),” Sturges said.

EPL’s virtual library can be accessed through the library’s website. It provides three external services for the online materials — Hoopla and Libby for books, and Kanopy for streaming services.

Hoopla has no limits on how many items a resident can check out, despite its smaller selection, according to Collection Development Manager Elizabeth Bird. EPL added additional access to virtual resources when e-book use surged during the height of the pandemic.

“We just diverted more money to the purchase of e-materials (because) we can never catch up with demand,” Bird said. “Of all the libraries in that consortium we belong to, which is called Digital Library of Illinois (OverDrive), we have the highest circulation.” 

The original hotspot initiative was expected to thrive and even expand with a fifth location, but Sturges said clients did not use the hotspots as much as EPL had hoped.

Sturges said she’s found dedicated readers prefer more readily available options to library services, including digital books, newspapers, magazines, tv shows and movies. 

“We’re on a continual process of trying to decide which programs and services we offer that are really being used and which ones are not,” Sturges said. “There are different programs and services that are sometimes popular in different communities.”

Evanston resident Michael Medos said he has utilized EPL’s online library almost five days a week for three years.

Medos said he prefers the e-book library to checking out books physically. He added that he tends to gravitate toward nonfiction books related to social and political science and has been impressed with the library’s collection.

“I’ve been successful finding most of the titles that I’ve been looking for,” Medos said. “I find them super user-friendly. I think it’s really easy.”

Medos added that he is a realtor and is able to listen to audiobooks from the library during his commute. 

He said he’s excited to see the library continue to grow its digital book selections. 

“It makes books and literature more accessible to people,” Medos said. “I’m onboard for them expanding their catalog because that’s exactly what will benefit users and drive more users to the platform.”

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Twitter: @Astry_tpwk

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