Standing in front of the soon-to-close South Branch Library, EPLF’s president Ellen Newcomer handed out information about tonight’s (Jan. 19) Library Board meeting. The group has been working for several months to preserve branches and expand library services.

As the lights are set to go out on the South Branch Library, the Evanston Public Library Friends (EPLF) have offered to help the Library maintain a presence in the Main/Chicago neighborhood.

“While South Branch’s closure is just one of many things the Board is juggling, it will be devastating for its patrons,” said EPLF’s new president, Ellen Newcomer.  “Our members’ and donors’ reactions have ranged from sadness and confusion to shock and outrage, and they are seeking answers as to what might be next.”

In a letter to Library Board members sent last week, EPLF proposed two ways the organization could help the Library Board with next steps to maintain a South presence.

The first option, preferred by the Friends group, is an offer to find, build out and pay for interim space for a temporarily relocated South Branch for the next fiscal year. This would allow the 
library to maintain services at their current level in the South Branch neighborhood, and the South Branch collection would remain intact. 

The second proposal calls for EPLF to lease a storefront for its own use, such as administrative activities for its burgeoning membership, volunteer and event coordination, a book-sorting area, a leave-one-take one book collection, as well as a storytime area, conference and study rooms and Internet terminals for public use.

EPLF would open the storefront office to the public during specified hours, so the Library could bring as many or few services as it could fund, the group says. The Friends say the space would “provide an excellent location where the Library could eventually bring programming, including whatever creative ideas it wanted to pilot as part of its long-term vision process, currently underway by the Library Board.” 

Currently, the Friends are supporting leave-one take-one book collections at various locations throughout Evanston, such as the BooCoo Bookwall at BooCoo Café.

“As a group who understands the vitality that a branch library brings to a neighborhood, we are committed to ultimately bringing a branch location to the west side of Evanston and are eager to work with anyone who supports the idea of branch services as they benefit the entire community. We’ve begun with our efforts such as the Boocoo Bookwall,” said Ms. Newcomer. “We acknowledge that the storefront/office alternative is not a branch library, but a location to which the Library could bring services. It’s a beginning from which to build.”

On the heels of a year-long struggle to maintain branch services, news of the South Branch closure was not well-received by many Evanston residents, including many seniors, internet users and the special-needs students of Park School who use the library for weekly outings, EPLF said. Just before the holidays, EPLF made a financial offer of support to the Library Board to continue the lease at the current South Branch location. However, the group reported, the landlord has already found a new tenant and closure is imminent.

EPLF says it feels there are “many details to explore” under both its proposals and is “eager for the Board’s input, which they hope to get at the next Library Board meeting on Jan. 19.