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Central Street window shoppers are checking them out – the library books behind glass in their favorite stores. Adding a twist to the adage about a book and its cover, they are trying to tell each shop by its book.
With Window Books – a project designed to draw attention to the endangered branch libraries – a homegrown historian and free-lance archaeologist is creating a buzz with her thematic pairings of titles and trades. Her matchmaking speaks volumes about the complementary relationship between (library) books and business.
Up and down the street passers-by are making the connections. The midnight cooks from Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” join the kneaders and bakers at Great Harvest Bread Company. Farther east, Rogasky’s “Rapunzel” lets down her golden hair at Coiffure Copenhagen, and Harvey’s “Island of the Lost Maps” floats among Ritzlin’s Antique Maps and Prints.
Advocates of the branch libraries have often argued that they are economic engines for their neighborhoods. Now many shop owners have taken up the cause, hoping to save the North Branch at 2026 Central St. and the South Branch at 949 Chicago Ave.
Earlier this year a RoundTable guest essay by historian Janet Messenger chronicled the Evanston libraries. Having established one of the first public libraries in the state in 1873, Evanston went on to found the North Branch in 1912 and the South Branch in 1917.
Despite their longevity, the branches have been threatened in nearly every budget cycle in the last decade. Yet loyal patrons and others continue to catalog their virtues, rallying again and again to keep them open. They point out that from 2008 to 2009 circulation increased 19 percent at the North Branch, 46 percent at the South Branch, and only 5 percent at the Main Library and that the branches create a “small-town sensibility” in this city of 74,000.
Merchants say the branches also create the street traffic that brings in customers.
Nevertheless, threat became reality this year when City Council funded the branches for only six months. That due date is looming. The owner of the South Branch building has already posted a For Rent sign. And supporters, who have coalesced as the EplFriends, have only until Sept. 1 to come up with the money to keep the branches open.
The group has found a friend in archaeologist Ann Foster, who was willing to dig around in the present to enliven the drive for funds. “I didn’t want to wake up in six months to find the North Branch had closed and I had not tried to do something,” she says.
Inspired by the “Save Our Branch Libraries” signs merchants displayed in their windows, she came up with the idea of adding a pertinent library book to each sign.
The range of reading material bears out the poster’s claim: “There’s something for everyone at the Evanston Public Library.”
Ms. Foster visited nearly 60 businesses in the Central Street/Green Bay area; 53 agreed to participate. Librarians lent their expertise and merchants their windows, and Window Books was born.
Titles like “Treasure Island” in Etienne’s Designer Studio and “Simply Delicious!” in Linz and Vail compliment their host merchants. Other choices, such as “Arthur’s Eyes” at Spex, “A Pizza the Size of the Sun” at Homemade Pizza Company and “Not Just Tutus” at the dance store Allegro will have onlookers chuckling. Some, for instance “The Ultimate Gift” in Tag’s Bakery and Pastry Shop, “Yorkshire Terrier: Tiny but Tough” in Central Evanston Currency and “Moby Dick” at Hogeye Music were the personal choice of business owners. Perhaps the curious will be moved to ask merchants about “Goodnight Moon” at Perennials, “Alice in Wonderland” at Gavin – and the identity of the “Wild Things” at Bluestone.
Early on, says Ms. Foster, the project “stopped being my idea and became a collective venture.” As merchants and librarians worked to find appropriate titles, some had suggestions for “next time.”
The EplFriends intend to use Central Street as a pilot for “a larger, pan-Evanston project,” says Ms. Foster, with the area around the South Branch next. Images of the covers will replace the books in store windows and the actual volumes will circulate from a special shelf at each branch library.
As the Friends contemplate the next phase of their effort, they face a classification dilemma: Does “What’s in your window?” call for a Dewey Decimal number of 300, Social Sciences and Folklore? Or does it belong in the 700s, with Arts and Recreation?
That depends on whether “What’s in your window?” is a conversation starter at future meet-and-greets – or the basis for a new Evanston trivia game.