It is well within recent memory that our Library was in danger of shrinking: City Council closed the South Branch, and the City budget held little extra room for such frills as a public library. Residents took action, understanding that a library is a vital part of the community. But those few years ago, even many of us who supported – and still support – branch libraries and the Main Library apparently had a limited vision of our Library’s potential.
Fortunately, that was not the case with our Library board, director, administrators and staff. How this place has grown. Even without a Library card, one can enjoy movies and lectures, receive assistance with preparing tax returns, brush up on job-readiness skills, hear stories with a little one, discuss books on many topics and participate in Spanish-English storytimes and book discussions.
In addition to the traditional services one expects from a Library, one finds outreach inside and outside the walls. Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons has said she wants “25% of our work to be provided outside our walls.” Library-sponsored bookshelves, where anyone can pick up a book to read and enjoy and then return, are already in several public places or gathering places such as barber shops, the Civic Center and Metra stations.
The Library is a terrific leader and partner in the public schools’ goal of bolstering literacy. For beginning readers and those whose enjoyment of books may be just listening to stories, its program “Read to Me” program encourages parents to read to their children, something that will help children be ready to learn at kindergarten – one of the indicators of future success.
With the two School Districts, the Library is a sponsor of “The Big Read,” a communitywide reading and discussion of one book, currently “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea.
The Library offers professional development to school librarians, teachers and day-care providers and provides books and information about books to the day-care centers. On the other end of the spectrum, it has an outreach program to home-bound seniors.
This year the Library’s budget includes enhancing its collections, investing in streaming media and purchasing WiFi hotspots for patrons to borrow so they can have temporary Internet access at home.
The Evanston Public Library incorporates a notion of the “third space,” a place where people can pursue their interests beyond the activities of the domestic sphere (the first space) and the second space of civic engagement.
One might wish to draw comparisons to that greatest and maybe first of all ancient Libraries – the great library at Alexandria. That one was and this one is a great repository of learning. But while the Alexandrian Library was meant to contain all the learning of the Western world, its purpose was scholarly rather than public. Alexander wished to have all the knowledge collected and translated into Greek – in other words, his main purpose was to preserve and control rather than distribute learning. Today’s libraries wish to be the channel of knowledge and learning, where one can go to learn and discover.
The focus on knowledge is the same from the Library of Alexandria to the Evanston Public Library, and Alexandria had its lighthouse at Pharos and we have the Grosse Point Lighthouse. There is a distance of miles, years and cyberspace between the two, and the beacon of knowledge still shines bright on Evanston.