National Library Week is April 19-25, highlighting the role of the Library in community life – a role that looks drastically different this year in Evanston and across the country. This National Library Week, the Evanston Public Library is sharing its 2019 annual report (https://www.epl.org/2019-annual-report/) highlighting the breadth of programming. The Library also is quickly enhancing access to resources and pivoting programming in the face of COVID-19, demonstrating the depth of the Library’s commitment to meeting the diverse needs of the community.

“The Library is quite proud of the role it plays in Evanston, and how quickly we are able to adjust to meet our residents’ current needs – access to resources,” says Acting Director Tim Longo. “Our trained staff is uniquely positioned to assist the community through various technologies and our network of partnerships. This includes expanding use of the digital library and connecting people to vital information they need during the pandemic.”

The 2019 Annual Report focuses on the breadth of people we serve and who give back to us every day. This year’s report focuses on individual stories, such as 106-year-old Evanstonian Betty Werrenrath who uses the Book on Wheels program; young mother Shruti Vijay who brings her baby to the Library’s storytelling programs and contributes to our Diwali celebration; and new staff member Elacsha Madison, the teen engagement coordinator reaching out to teens and young adults in the community.

All of that in-person programming inside and outside of the Library’s locations, of course, came to a halt with the City of Evanston’s shelter-in-place order. But with its ability to quickly change gears and leverage existing technologies and relationships, the Library has been able to remain a critical part of the community’s every day.

“Our staff has spent a lot of energy curating our resources for home education, vital COVID-19 information, entertainment, mental health, seniors, and ways to contribute to the community, among other topics,” says Longo. “We’ve really pumped up our communication with Evanstonians to ensure everyone has the right information and ability to access resources. Our librarians are uniquely positioned to help the community as they are trained in finding reliable answers to questions of all types.”

The traditionally bi-weekly newsletter is now distributed three times a week to specific audiences. Recent newsletters as being opened at  8 to 10 percent higher rates and links are being clicked at almost double the pre-pandemic rates, demonstrating a community hungry for accurate information.

Along with more frequent social media posts, the Library is promoting quick online Library Card applications prioritized for reaching underrepresented communities. Since March 18, it has seen a surge in applications with 475 new cards issued.

Other reasons to continue celebrating the Library’s role in the community, especially now:

Library staff available seven days a week: M-F, 9 am – 6 pm, Sat/Sun 12 pm – 5 pm via phone, email or instant message to answer questions of all kinds from unemployment insurance to business loans to using the digital library.

Library staff available seven days a week: M-F, 9 am – 7 pm, Sat/Sun 12 pm – 6 pm via phone, email or instant message to answer questions of all kinds from unemployment insurance to business loans to using the digital library.

Social worker available Monday thru Friday for support and help with finding services and resources. Social work services also are available in Spanish.

Hosting public online book discussions for adults and including those with disabilities.

Soliciting recipes from the community to create a Cozy Evanston Community Cookbook ebook.

Staff members providing video stories and songs, including a sing-along for a Park School class in lieu of its bi-monthly story time.

In cooperation with other Evanston entities, the Library is lending expertise for:

Curating a list of free educational resources and entertainment sites, highlighting donation opportunities through email, and assisting organizations in their need for volunteers.

Teen services staff working with community partners (YMCA, YOU, Northwestern University, Family Focus, school districts 65 and D202) to develop virtual offerings of STEM activities, mentor hours and social hours.

Partnering with Northwestern University Office of Community Education Partnerships  to curate and align out-of-school STEM opportunities across the community, including Digital Divas and digital music programs using TunePad.

“We don’t know how long this shelter-in-place will go on, but we do want to mitigate the negative impact,” says Longo. “The Library is a focal point of our community for so many reasons. We are as eager as any Evanstonian to get back to normal and continue building a great story for next year’s 2020 annual report.”