Library officials have another year before they can exercise an opt-out clause in their lease at the Chicago Avenue/Main Street Branch, Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons told the Board members at their Sept. 18 meeting.RoundTable photo

Evanston Public Library trustees pulled back from consideration of a move to close their Chicago Avenue/Main Street (CAMS) Branch and shift resources elsewhere, citing a lease at CAMS binding them another year.

At the meeting in the Community Room of the main library Sept. 18, Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons informed Board members that the earliest the Library could secure a release from its lease for the building, located at 900 Chicago Ave., was January 2021.

At the Board’s previous meeting on the budget Sept. 4,  a number of trustees spoke of closing CAMS by the end of the year, freeing up resources for library services in the west side Fifth Ward, and the Eighth and Ninth Wards, south of CAMS.

Many cited the Library’s commitment to equitable service. In addition, Ms. Danczak Lyons recently released a map, showing underserved areas.

At the Sept. 18 meeting, Library Board President Shawn Iles asked Ms. Danczak Lyons whether the updated information on the lease meant the Board’s “hands were tied” pursuing space elsewhere.

“We will be committed to the lease for at least a year,” she said.

To open other spaces now while CAMS is operating, “I would have to negotiate probably a lease [on the new site]; there would have to be some buildout; and we’d have to look at when that could be launched,” she said.

“But as we get ready to bring Robert Crown on line,” she said [referring to the new branch library the library will be starting at the Robert Crown Community Center at Main Street and Dodge Ave], I can be very honest with you, that I don’t have the capacity.”

Ms. Danczak Lyons said she is continuing to explore other locations for the future.

At the Board’s October meeting, she said, she hopes to present a renegotiated lease for CAMS, allowing the officials to exercise an early-out clause in their CAMS lease, to take effect January 2021.

At the Sept. 18 meeting, several CAMS supporters spoke about the importance of the library, which replaced a privately run library, The Mighty Twig [“not quite a branch’].

Residents banded together to open the storefront library in 2011 after the Library’s South Branch, located just to the north, had been closed in a budget decision, sparking response from community members.

At the time, “there was a real anger in that community,” said Board member Margaret Lurie, recalling the history at the Sept. 18 meeting. “Evanston Public Library Friends stepped up and ran this very elaborate silent auction to open, The Mighty Twig.”

The effort “shows you how important” library services are to that community, Ms. Lurie said.

“I’ve heard people talk about the southeast side and all the big houses on the Lake,” she continued, “but most people in that area, they live in apartments; they don’t have cars; there’s no bus [for] Robert Crown anymore.

“If you go by CAMS any morning you see strollers lined up. They’re not going to walk their kids up there. The students at Park School that use they would not be able to walk down to Robert Crown, [nor would] the people at Albany Care. Those computers are always busy. 

“CAMS is a really well-loved library,” she said. “I understand how important it is to work on equity. … I think equity involves more than just racial equity. There’s equity for the elderly. There is economic equity to serve people who don’t have a lot of money. And there’s equity for the disabled, which means people at Park [School], the people at Albany Care.”

Board member Benjamin Schapiro, a professional librarian by training, argued that “the value of the library stems from how it reaches those people it has not reached in the past and who need the services the most, so they can improve their futures.”

When officials looked at maps developed by Ms. Danczak Lyons showing library use geographically, the south areas “are out of reach of CAMS – farther away from CAMs than CAMS is from here [the main library downtown]”, he noted.

He said there is a sizable community meeting low income community in that area.

“These are people we have never reached,” he said. “These are people who really could use the help of a library in their community. 

“The question isn’t really about taking something away,” he maintained, “but replacing things so that they could better serve as many people as possible, especially those who historically have not been served well. So I think the challenge for us is looking at how we behaved in the past, understanding that, looking what’s needed now and how do we build to meet needs in the future.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.