Since I moved to Evanston to become the Library’s Collection Development Manager, the City has provided a learning curve these last four years. And I believe that at this point I have a pretty clear sense of what my patrons do and do not like to read. Because I moved here from Manhattan, it is difficult to compare the reading habits of the City to any other location. And yet I believe I can say, with utmost sincerity and solemnity, that Evanston, Illinois has some very odd reading habits.

Very odd.
First off, let us consider the most popular display I ever created. If you enter the library you will often find a number of thematic displays situated on the first and second floors. I believe that currently there is a display of science for laymen, of pirates and of newspaper heroes. Thinking up these displays can prove a challenge, but there’s always something new to try. So what, you may ask, was the most popular display I ever made? There is no question in my mind. The topic:

I kid you not. I literally could not keep that display filled. There were the usual suspects like “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” and then there were more obscure books with names like “Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters” and “How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention.”

Such books as these are catnip to this town. I can only assume that the new book I just purchased, “Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English” by Gyles Brandreth is destined to become a hit as well.

But even more interesting than what Evanstonians borrow is what they steal. Like any public library, we have to deal with theft. It’s an expensive prospect, and much of my time is spent re-ordering those books that light fingers have slipped from our stacks.

Most thefts are easy to predict. Name the popular book or movie/TV series and you’ll inevitably see copies marked as “Missing” in our records.

But recently I stumbled upon a massive number of missing items on a single, specific topic. I was pulling books for a display on the first floor when I noticed that 1 . . . 2 . . . 27 books were missing. What was this enticing topic that was walking out our doors never to be seen again?

Food memoirs.
I kid you not. Someone has been stealing food memoirs from the library. “1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die”? Gone. “The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion”? Gone. “Letters to a Young Chef”? Gone gone gone.

All this has led me to one final and inescapable conclusion. Evanston, you are a City of nerds.

And I, your nerdy Materials Specialist, will do what I can to meet your wonderful, strange, odd little needs.

Betsy Bird

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