Evanston Public Library Community Journals document memories of Evanston residents


Courtesy of Beatriz Echeverría

The three Evanston Public Library community journals stacked on top of each other. Branch manager Beatriz Echeverría bought the journals, cataloged them, prepared instruction sheets and printed flyers to generate awareness.

Leah Schroeder, Reporter

Nestled in the North American History section of Evanston Public Library’s Robert Crown Branch are three seemingly nondescript journals. But inside, they are filled with residents’ memories, opinions and art.

These journals are a product of EPL’s Community Journal project, launched in February by branch manager Beatriz Echeverría. Patrons can check out a journal for a maximum of two weeks and return it with up to four pages filled with their own experiences in the city.

“Since people in Evanston are so passionate about their city, I thought that people would be interested in leaving a written testimonial of their memories,” Echeverría said.

Echeverría was inspired to start the project after she saw the American Library Association and other libraries create similar programs. 

The Robert Crown Branch currently houses three community journals: one for adults, teenagers and children, respectively. Each journal contains instructions and writing prompts, such as the writer’s favorite season, piece of nature or spot in the city.

Writers can also look back at what previous contributors have added to the project. 

“The diversity of formats and the diversity of memories is what makes it interesting to me,” Echeverría said. “It would be beautiful to come back in five or 10 years and look through one of these journals and see all sorts of memories.”

The journals are also available for patrons to check out. 

Echeverría said the program has seen the most success with adults. One such participant was Evanston resident John McClelland.

“This program is an interesting way for people, including some who are not habitual writers, to have something to say about their community’s place in their lives,” McClelland said. “For all its flaws, including some dark history and elitism, Evanston is wonderfully diverse and interesting.”

Library assistant Bridget Petrites said these journals will eventually help document the city’s past. 

By giving people a voice and forum, she said the project is a part of living history.

“In 10 or 20 years’ time, it gives people an insight into what people were thinking then,” Petrites said. “People can see some of the thoughts of their neighbors and what Evanston (means) to one person versus another.” 

Echeverría said the program has not gained as much awareness as she had hoped, leaving many pages unfilled in the community journals.

However, she hopes the program will continue indefinitely.

“It’s a way of giving people a voice that remains after they might not be here,” Echeverría said. “That’s the beauty — that whatever you write in there is for posterity and for anybody to see. You kind of get a snapshot, even if it’s a five-year span, of what people think of their own city.” 

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