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Librarians, Library Board members, library-lovers and City officials officially opened the Chicago Main Branch of the Evanston Public Library.
It came as no surprise to Marcia Mahoney when she learned that the South branch of the Evanston Public Library would close at the end of February 2011. The former branch assistant had been given a layoff notice six months earlier.
“There had been threatened closures of the South Branch by the City Council for years,” Ms. Mahoney said.
It was not news to the Evanston Public Library Friends either. The non-profit membership organization had been engaged in a heated debate with the Evanston City Council over the transition to a new model of funding for the Library. They had also raised enough money to fund the South and North branches for six months.
Instead of succumbing, the Friends sprang into action and in just three weeks had opened a fully functioning community library at Chicago Avenue and Main Street. They named it The Mighty Twig, a clever acknowledgement of both its diminished size and the will and efforts of the community that had made it possible.
“To raise the money, we did everything from have an online auction to have lemonade stands to write fundraising letters, solicit wealthy individuals, write grant applications. We scraped for every penny we could find,” said Ms. Mahoney, who became the director of the Twig and president of the Friends.
People in the construction business helped build the space. Lawyers reviewed the lease. Former teachers and library workers assisted with creating the library collection. Volunteers sorted, cleaned and shelved books. All of the time, money and materials required to make the Mighty Twig a reality were donated. Ms. Mahoney likened it to a barn-raising.
Karen Danczak Lyons, appointed Library director in April 2012, said, “It’s a testament to the citizens and to the leadership of the Friends and Marcia Mahoney, who saw a continuing need in an area of the City. And when the South Branch was closed due to lack of funds, it was quickly able – in a matter of weeks – to organize and gather donations to create a space there that was much loved and operated for 18 months.”
The Friends had hoped the Library would eventually assume responsibility over the Mighty Twig, and in September of last year, the library board voted to take over on Jan. 1, 2013. On Jan. 12, the Chicago Avenue Main Street Branch (CAMS) opened in the Mighty Twig’s space.
When Ms. Lyons had the Evanston Census data mapped according to age, she found that the Chicago Avenue/Main Street corridor served a lot of children and families. “It’s also a little more than a mile away from the Main Library, so it’s not convenient for someone pushing a stroller to walk that far,” she said.
Ms. Lyons said the CAMS branch will continue the reading-centered programming visitors enjoyed at the Mighty Twig and will also be able to offer requests for holds. Because the Mighty Twig was not part of the Evanston Public Library system, patrons could not place books on hold or request books from other libraries. But since the EPL is a member of a consortium of North Shore libraries, residents will now be able access hundreds of thousands of books from their computers and pick up the books at CAMS.
Connie Heneghan, the Library’s Neighborhood Services Manager, said the space, while smaller than the old South Branch, is more open and inviting. And the location is better because of its proximity to the Purple Line and the Chicago Avenue/Main Street business corridor.
Volunteers continue to lead story times and process book donations at CAMS. When book donations to the Twig outgrew the space, the Friends began setting up mini-libraries throughout the City. Ms. Mahoney said the Friends will be meeting with Ms. Lyons and the Library development committee to discuss collaboration on future fundraising for outreach and CAMS. “But we’ve been taking a few months to sort our laundry and clean our homes and do all those other things that were put on hold for two years,” she said.
“In Evanston, wishes became a reality …[because] people put their heart and soul, their time and their checkbooks behind something they believed in and created a safe learning space. That’s a true testament to the community spirit and the values of Evanston.”