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Library Board of Trustees and administrators looking to expand outreach services to more of the Evanston community have decided on 900 Chicago Ave., at least until 2014. The site is home to the Mighty Twig, a privately funded, free lending library and drop-in center located kitty-corner from the site of the South Branch Library, which closed nearly two years ago.
The Mighty Twig is well staffed by volunteers, its president, Marcia Mahoney, told members of the Library Board at their Sept. 18 meeting. On the management level, however, even people who work full-time are not getting paid. The model, which worked for two years as an “experiment,” she said, is no longer sustainable. If the Evanston Public Library wished to take over the site, the Twig would give the landlord a two-month notice, so library operations could begin as early as January.
The eight members of the Library Board voted unanimously to “take over” the Twig site and establish the Chicago/Main Library there. Most expressed confidence that the $145,000 needed to operate the library there could be raised privately from loyal donors. Ms. Mahoney said the Evanston Public ibrary Friends, which has raised funds for the Twig, would help raise money for the Library for that purpose. Half of the funds – just under $75,000 – must be raised before the year’s end, and the Library must have a favorable lease for the space in order for the transition to work.
No new staff would be hired to operate the Chicago/Main Library, said Library director Karen Danczak Lyons. “We have many staff who are part-time. We would offer the part-time employees eight hours of extra work, much like we offered at the pop-up branch [in Evanston Plaza, Dempster Street at Dodge Avenue) this summer.”
In response to a question from Board member Diane Allen about the feasibility of the Twig’s continued operations, Ms. Mahoney said, “We have several people working full-time without pay, and we believe it’s the Library’s responsibility to provide Library services throughout Evanston. We don’t want to run a shadow library system.”
“The Twig has its own kind of feel,” Board member Tori Freeman asked Ms. Mahoney. “How will people feel if we come in and institute fines and fees?”
Ms. Mahoney responded that she thought the Library staff and administration would be able “to take the best of the Evanston Public Library and the Twig … I have confidence that smart, caring people can make the transition.”
Board member Susan Newman said, “The plan is ambitions, but I think it’s brave. I think it’s the right move. It doesn’t satisfy the world, but it makes sense that we pursue it.”
“The Friends have been very successful,” said Board member Leora Siegel. “This is a wonderful opportunity. Everything is aligned for us to embrace [the Chicago/Main Library]. This is a golden moment and we have to take advantage of it.”
Board member Margaret Lurie said she was “very optimistic that we can raise the money to keep Chicago/Main going.” She recalled that previously there was “acrimony over neighborhood services … and now we are looking at a South Branch Library.”
Sergio de los Reyes said, “This may or may not be the best place to be in the long-term.” In the short-term, he said, he would approve the move.
Board president Ben Schapiro said that, while the Board’s new strategic plan points at outreach, the form of that outreach has not been determined. “We have to be careful about setting precedents [about location of neighborhood services]. This [the Chicago/Main Library] is a good way to fill  – a good stopgap.”
Ms. Lyons also said that the Chicago/Main Library would be in that location for 2013. Whether it would remain there, whether there would be a west-side branch and how neighborhood services would be expanded to serve the community as widely as possible would be determined by the Board in the coming months she said. A wild card, she added, is the new Robert Crown Center. The City has received responses to its RFP to build a community center, with ice rinks, in roughly the same location at Main Street and Dodge Avenue. The plans include 5,000 square feet for a library.
Another west side location is in the Dempster/Dodge area, the site for the past three summers of a “pop-up” branch, Ms. Lyons said. Until the Library Board members and administrators determine additional forms and locations of neighborhood services, there will be a branch library at Main Street and Chicago Avenue.