When I lived in New York City I would, on occasion, find myself dining with folks not usually in my social circle. These people would ask what I did for a living and they could be a bit surprised when I said I was a librarian.

“A librarian? Are there still libraries anymore?” they’d joke. “Didn’t ebooks get rid of them?

Poor souls. Little did they know that saying that kind of thing to a librarian means you’re cruising for a bruising two-hour explanation of all the different ways in which a library serves its community above and beyond print materials (which, quite frankly, aren’t going anywhere). After I had prevented the person from adequately finishing their salad, soup or main course, they would eventually have to admit ignorance just to keep the crazy librarian lady next to them quiet.

Even so, the perception continues that all we ever do is circulate books. That’s a cute notion. Very 1950s. But in 2019 it’s just not very practical.

Libraries are continually trying to find new ways to become invaluable to the public. Case in point: The Memory Cafés and the new Dementia Resource Center.

As reported in a recent press release, “People with dementia and their care partners are important stakeholders in the Evanston community. The Library offers them a dedicated program and resources to broaden their opportunities for fun and education.” What does that look like? Well, first we have our Memory Cafés, which began in September 2018 and take place on the third Saturday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Falcon Room of the Main Library.

Memory Cafés bring in art and service programs to provide enrichment activities for people living with dementia and build community and provide support for their care partners. The events are social and fun, and they offer equalizing opportunities to engage in art, dance or music, among other activities.

Because dementia can be such an isolating illness, the library then set out to secure new funding to expand our offerings for its patrons living with dementia and their care partners.

That’s why we have also created the Dementia Resource Center. Housed next to the Falcon Room on the third floor of the Main Library. The collection offers books on the subject of Alzheimer’s and dementia taken from the library’s collections. These books are marked with a purple dot to identify them, and they can be borrowed like other library books. New materials will be added regularly.

In addition, the Resource Center has take-home activity kits that can be checked out for a month at a time. These kits contain puzzles, games and other mind and memory activities that encourage people on the different phases of the memory loss spectrum to interact with their care partners.  

The library encourages feedback on how these activities work for those who borrow them. Presently, the activity kits are available only to Evanston residents.

It’s a far cry from just handing out books, but that’s the library for ya – trying new things all the time.

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library. She has been writing for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.