When you are a venerable public institution you have a tendency to forget things. Staff members come and go.  Buildings are raised and razed. A library is a house of information, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily know the story behind everything that’s here (particularly when there is more than one location). Case in point, the mysterious story behind Catch-22.

In 2011 the Chicago Avenue – Main Street branch of Evanston Public Library was slated to close. Financial times were tough and it looked as though the City wouldn’t be able to support the South Branch (now occasionally called CAMS) any longer. That meant a lot of much-needed cleaning had to be done. Staff librarian Barbara Levie was on hand, digging through outdated, dusty and occasionally useful titles.

It was sharp-eyed volunteer Jessica who spotted the diamond in the rough.  Looking at it, it isn’t much. Just a copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, rebound (which is to say, given a new cover) sometime in January of 1995. What distinguishes it from other rebound books is that in the front, someone had taken the time to cut out a strange little message.

It reads:
  To the Evanston Library,
Let’s hope nobody steals this copy and forces you to replace it with another.
Joseph Heller
2/18/80
      Chicago

Baffled, Barb had a lot of questions, which she wrote at the time on the Off the Shelf blog: “Why did Joseph Heller sign this book? Did he visit Chicago (or Evanston) in 1980? Did he donate the book, or just sign a copy we already had on our shelf? How did it end up at South Branch?”

Seven years later and we know just as little now as we did then.  It’s a funny little message, suggesting that there may have been a staff member who sought out the great writer and told him some tale of library-theft woe. Also, if he was signing it to Evanston, why did he write “Chicago” at the bottom?

Whatever the case, it’s a lovely little piece to add to the Evanston Library permanent collection. Quirky signature and all.