Mike Roche — some of his students from Chute School reading in the courtyard and won second-place in the photo contest. Photo by Mike Roche Credit: Mike Roche

The Evanston Public Library, a natural champion of the written word, is exploring the power of pictures to demonstrate the importance of reading.

November will mark the launch of a new reading awareness photography campaign using vivid and powerful portraits of Evanston locals accompanied with quotes discussing their favorite stories and books and why they love reading.

The Library hopes to reinforce and expand the strong tradition of reading of the diverse residents of Evanston. The new project will be launched on Facebook and Tumblr simultaneously and is modeled on an extremely successful photoblog project called “Humans of New York” that has achieved much visibility through social media.   

Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons said, “We want to continue to explore creative ways of celebrating people who are deeply engaged in reading, of connecting with those who are not regular patrons of the Library, and of inspiring more people to experience the pleasures and benefits of reading in all its forms.

“Literacy is more important than ever as a path to success. We know that visuals can have high impact and we believe that they can be used to inspire and foster a love of reading within Evanston.”

Last month, the Evanston Public Library held a “Get Caught Reading” photography competition in which Evanston photographers of all ages and skill levels submitted photos of people reading in Evanston. The contest had separate categories for entrants over and under 18 years old, and the first-place winners of each category received a Kindle Fire tablet. The contest received 121 total entries. Winners were honored at the Library’s board meeting on Oct. 30.

When asked why they chose to submit photos, both kids and adults cited a love of reading and going to the Library. “Libraries are the portals to the magic of imagination,” said Mike Roche, a literature teacher at Chute Middle School who won second place in the over-18 category. “[They] can allow us to travel the entire world,” he said. Second-place 18-and-under winner 6-year-old Colin Lowman agreed, saying, “I love to read at the Library because it is quiet and there’s a lot of stuff.”

Mr. Roche, along with other members of the District 65’s Chute Middle School administration, says that implementing this culture of bibliophiles starts with Evanston’s youngest residents. “Making students ready for college and the real world starts with ‘relaxing and reading,’” he said. He cites the school’s librarian, Donna Richardson, as not only “the best school librarian in America” but also the instigator for the school’s submission to the contest. Mr. Roche’s photo is an aerial perspective of students lounging at tables, trees and benches in the Chute courtyard, each focused on his or her own book. Roche notes that though he took the photo, its arrangement came entirely from his students, who set themselves up in a way meant to demonstrate reading as the “relaxing and thought-provoking activity that they participate in every day.” At Chute, he and Ms. Richardson assist each student in applying for a library card. The pair also encourage students to have specific reading nooks in their houses quiet enough to allow them to “enjoy [their] reading journeys.”

Liz Hansen, the over-18 first-place winner, appreciates the Library for different reasons. “I love how [it] creates a community gathering place,” notes the mother of two daughters (one of whom is pictured in the winning photo). “Libraries allow everyone access to books, regardless of age or income. We often run into friends at the Library.” Alison Tye, the second-place under-18 winner, adds that the library is a great place to study, and that she goes “on average once a week with friends.”

The idea of reading being both individual and collaborative comes to fruition in many of the Library’s programs, including its book discussion groups, children’s storytimes and summer reading programs for all ages. Six-year-old Lowman demonstrates this trend, though he warns Library- goers with just one caveat: “The Library is important because you can get a lot of books for free,” he agrees. “But you have to remember to bring them back.”

For more information on events held by the Evanston Public Library, visit epl.org.

Jill Schacter is the marketing and communications Coordinator for the Evanston Public Library