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At Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on June 19, nearly 60 campers and three families were building structures from toothpicks and marshmallows. Some 20 families were at Robert Crown the day before when it was 94 degrees doing the same thing. If the weather is good, many take full advantage of Library in the Parks, especially those who are in camp.
When City of Evanston campers broke for lunch and saw the table set up in front of Fleetwood, their eyes lit up and they ran toward Laura Antolin, the Children’s Outreach Librarian of the Evanston Public Library. Some have never seen her before, and some see her every summer.
“I have seen some of these kids grow from when they were little” she says as her hand levels out where kids could be height wise “but others just know me as the librarian.”
She is the librarian the kids have seen every Tuesday, every summer for the last three years. Every Tuesday the kids are excited to build something new. Unless they had eaten, they could not build with the marshmallows or participate in the crafts. When they were ushered away by their counselors to eat lunch first, they looked either sad because they could not build at that moment or invigorated to finish lunch as soon as possible so they could spend some time building with the librarian.
“There could be barriers for kids to get to the library, so to make things easier the library is coming to them,” says Ms. Antolin.
When parents are working, the library is too far away for some, or it can be hard to get to by public transportation, so some Evanston kids do not have easy access to books. As a result, the library comes to them through programs like Library in the Park, which exposes children and families who participate in the free lunch program to reading and different crafts. Kids in City camps also participate during lunch hour; reading is a part of their daily schedule.
In addition to Library in the Parks, the library has other programs for Evanston children which exposes them to the library.
Each school year for the past nine years Foundation 65 has given the library a grant to send all District 65 kindergarteners to the Children’s Center at the library for read-alongs, library tours, and crafts.
Children who want a library take home an application.
In the summer, the library runs its Summer Reading Program. However, because these services are not easily accessible to all Evanston children, the library established Library in the Park, which is now in its third summer.
The time the children have with Ms. Antolin is their time to be creative and build something they can be proud of, and enjoy, especially since they could take it with them and eat it.
This is only the beginning for the program. Ms. Antolin wants to make it more robust by getting other park districts such as Ridgeville and Lighthouse Landing involved in programs like this.
Library in the Park operates at four different locations: Robert Crown on Mondays, Fleetwood-Jourdain on Tuesdays, Mason Park on Wednesdays and James Park on Thursdays. With the exception of the week of the Fourth of July, there is a new activity each week. The program’s last week is the week of Aug. 9.