Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, right, shows Twig president Marcia Mahoney and Library Board president Ben Schapiro news hybrid techno-book, some pages of which have a four-square mark that, when scanned, allows pop-ups of additional information, such as interviews with the author. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

This year, fundraising for library services will be a joint effort, not the scattershot approach of the past two years. The Evanston Public Library Friends is throwing its fundraising support behind the Evanston Public Library’s Fund for Excellence.

The effort unites the two groups, the Friends and the Library, which have espoused the same goal of expanding library services in Evanston but have at times differed sharply on how to implement them.

The Friends is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit group that evolved from grassroots efforts to save both the North and South Branch libraries in the face of stringent budget cuts at the City. The group established the Mighty Twig at 900 Chicago Ave. when the Library board of trustees closed the South Branch and has operated it on donations, volunteer labor and the honor system for the past two years.

The unified goal is to raise $250,000 for library services and collections, much of it before the end of the year.  The Fund for Excellence is the Library’s annual fundraising campaign, said Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, and money raised through it will go toward collections ($100,000) and library services ($150,000). She said this will expand the Library’s offerings to its patrons of books, pamphlets, tracts, CDs, movies and more.

For the coming year, “library services” includes reconfiguring the Twig as a branch of the Evanston Public Library and contemplating other ways and other locations to provide outreach. Twig President Marcia Mahoney and Library board member and chair of the Library’s Fund for Excellence Margaret Lurie, who signed the fundraising letter, said they hope to expand services to the City’s West Side.

With more than 60 volunteers, the Twig has generated enthusiasm in the southeast Evanston area that was served by a library branch for more than 125 years. More than 70,000 books have been given away (returns are welcomed but optional); story times – no pre-registration required – attract at least 20 children daily, and the computers are free for clients to use.  

Only money is in short supply. At an earlier Library board meeting Ms. Mahoney had said the Twig would have to close in January because of lack of funding.
In response to a request from the Twig to take over the operations there, the Library’s board of trustees – still new to its independence from the City – voted to take on the operations of the Twig to keep library services in that part of the City active as they contemplate expanding services to other parts of the community, particularly the West Side.

“It’s a significant step of rejoining,” said Library board president Ben Schapiro. “We want to continue that service.”

“[Keeping the space in operation as a Library branch] is a springboard for greater outreach,” said Ms. Lurie.

Having branches, satellites and outposts is “just the way Evanston has developed,” she said. “In Skokie, they made a conscious decision to have all library services in one building. Skokie has lots of free parking, which we don’t have. We have the history of having the South Branch, which was much loved, and the North Branch, which is [still] much loved. The Main Library is great but not accessible to families with small children.”

The Twig will celebrate its closing as the Twig with a party on Dec. 15, said Ms. Mahoney, although services will continue through the end of the year. If fundraising is successful, it will begin operations on Jan. 1 as the Chicago/Main Branch of the Evanston Public Library.

This fundraising effort is the culmination of an active year for the Library board, said Mr. Schapiro. “We’ve addressed governance, the budget and personnel, adopted a strategic plan and agreed on the outreach component,” he said.

In order not to rock the boat, the Library board did not increase its levy for next year, even though a slight increase in the levy would have covered the amount, said Ms. Lurie.

Raising at least $75,000 for outreach by the end of the year is critical for the progress of the Library board’s outreach plan. Ms. Lurie said, “It’s ambitious, but I think we can do it.”

“This is an important time for the Evanston Public Library,” said Ms. Lyons. “As generous as the community has been, if we don’t raise the funds that we need to support the Chicago/Main Library branch, it will not be a Library space next year. At a time when we think of what we should be thankful for, the Library should be a part of that [thinking].”Library board president Ben Schapiro says, “Most people have a ‘Third Place’: a place that’s not home and not work or school – the ‘between’ space where you engage in social and economic interaction.”

It can be a coffee shop or the gym, but Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons says she thinks in Evanston it can be the Library.

Mr. Schapiro agrees. “The Library should be the meeting place. There’s no commercial activity, no barriers to entry.”  

Parents and caregivers of young children meet at storytimes. A teen board helps make decisions about programming at The Loft, the Library’s third-floor space devoted only to teens. The FUSE program is offered there jointly with Northwestern University’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) outreach program.

For avid readers there is an array of book clubs. This year, readers in the third installment of Mission: Impossible tackled the short stories of Flannery O’Connor.

Most people “tend to come to the Library for social or educational reasons,” Mr. Schapiro says, “but there is an economic development component. We offer services to small businesses that can help retail operations. They can research products and markets that help their businesses grow. With this vital downtown, we work with Downtown Evanston and the Chamber of Commerce.”

“We have a partnership with Illinois WorkNet, where people who are out of work or seeking new jobs can go to brush up on their skills, search for jobs or rework their resumes. Patrons can also have access to [business and market] databases whose cost would be prohibitive to small businesses. And we have the trained staff to help,” says Ms. Lyons.  

Library services extend beyond the Library buildings. The Library maintains shelves and carts of books, free for the taking, at several places throughout the community, such as Metra Stations and at Ridgeville Park District (children’s books only).

Residents voting early this year were able to pick up a free book to read in the long waiting lines and then take home, courtesy of the Library.

“You shouldn’t be more than a few blocks from a free book in this town,” says Mr. Schapiro.

Ms. Lyons said she is continuing discussions with Ridgeville about bringing Library programs to that park district.

Literacy is an issue of public health, say Ms. Lyons and Mr. Schapiro. People should be able to read their prescriptions and know how to research information on the Internet about possible illnesses and drug interactions.

As the Library board contemplates its outreach to the West Side, all residents may weigh in through an online survey at

The West Branch of the Library was located on Simpson Street just east of Dodge Avenue until it closed in the 1970s. In the last few years there has been support and advocacy to reinstate a branch on the City’s West or Southwest side. A Summer Reading Stop for the past three years in Evanston Plaza, at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, has proved popular.

Library board member Margaret Lurie noted that the location is only a block from Evanston Township High School, whose libraries close at 4 p.m.

Just south of that, the City may rebuild the Robert Crown Center, and at least one proposal calls for a 5,000-square-foot library branch there.

There is also a virtual world of Library services beyond the physical space of the Library and its physical extensions. Visiting – the 24/7 Library on the Internet – opens a whole new world: catalogues, Library news and events, research and learning, community news (history and government, e.g.) and activities – even homework help – for kids and teens.

Mr. Schapiro, a member of the Evanston 150 committee, says his group is researching how to implement “community-wide Wi-Fi access. From the studies I’ve seen,” he says, “[access to computers] isn‘t the problem.” Access to the Internet is the barrier. His group is “looking to try to extend Wi-Fi service outside of downtown, allowing online access to the library.”
he group, Mr. Schapiro says, has made a map of free Wi-Fi-access spots and talked with Comcast about the costs. “If we are to do this we need to know what the financial barriers are to getting access to the Internet and thus access to the Library and its outreach. … It’s down to the last 200 feet – from the pole to the home. How do we get people to [be able to bridge] that distance?”

Ms. Lyons says the combination of the new energy of the board, the ‘The More You Know’ committee of Evanston 150, and the fundraising efforts for outreach and collections will help bring people to the Library as their third place – physically and/or virtually.

She says, “We want to be the backbone of success in Evanston. We want to say to the community, ‘Welcome back to the Evanston Public Library.”

The Branch Will Not Grow Far From the Twig

Whether the book-lending space at 900 Chicago Ave. is reborn as the Chicago/Main Branch of the Evanston Public Library or not, the Twig will close its doors there on Dec. 31. If the Library Board is successful in raising $150,000 to operate the branch – $75,000 by year’s end – patrons will likely see few physical differences but will experience some changes in policy.

In its two years of operation, the Twig has gained a reputation for its welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff, the honor system under which it distributed and received books and its “wildly successful” storytimes. Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons said the new operation “will look, policy-wise and procedurally, like the Library, but we’ll try to keep the openness, volunteers and friendliness of the Twig.”

Twig president Marcia Mahoney said Twig patrons have expressed concerns about having to return books on time, or even at all, since the Twig operated on the honor system. She said she understood the Library is “grappling with that problem.”

Ms. Lyons said that aspect of the transition is “challenging. … Our collection is paid for with tax dollars,” so the transition from the honor system is necessary.

Ms. Mahoney said the Library may adopt the “no-preregistration” policy for storytimes. Other policies and programs may be implemented later. “The Twig has so many ideas, most of which we will have to postpone for now,” Ms. Lurie said.

Ms. Lyons said, “Many of the staff and patrons of the Twig know each other and are faithful to the Twig. My perspective is that [when it becomes a Library branch] we’re adding value.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...