Evanston’s current bookmobile, dubbed “Lola,” is still in operation, though currently sitting out the pandemic in the Robert Crown Community Center parking lot. Photo by Bob Seidenberg

Evanston Public Library officials are contemplating adding a bookmobile to extend the Library’s reach to underserved communities but first want to confirm there is interest in that type of service.

In a report to the Library Board Oct. 21, Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons recommended that the issue be made part of the strategic planning process the Library will undertake to determine how best to distribute limited resources.

During that process, she said, staff could ask residents specifically about their interest in adding a book-and-technology mobile to the array of services offered by the Evanston Public Library.

Ms. Danczak Lyons told Board members that use of a bookmobile to deliver services should be “part of the conversation, especially in the Fifth, Eighth or Ninth Wards,” where officials are attempting to increase use of library services.

In the west side Fifth Ward, where officials are looking at a physical space to house library services, she said the question to be asked, “Is this something that you’d want in addition to a physical presence? How would this work for you and your family? So that we’re really hearing from our residents – what it is they would find useful – and then working to create a vehicle that would serve those needs.”

 Ms. Danczak Lyons also pointed to the capital costs and timeline involved in a new book mobile in support of first confirming interest.

 “This is not something that even if you said, ‘Karen, here’s a million dollars, we want a book mobile in three months,’ it’s just not possible,” she told Library Board members.

The current mobile library, dubbed “Lola,” is still in operation, Ms. Danczak Lyons said.

Before the pandemic, the mobile library visited parks, including Brummel Park, block parties and outdoor festivals such as Fall Festival and Trunk or Treat, National Night Out, as well as District 65 schools, Ms. Danczak Lyons said.

The New Bookmobile 

The new book- or tech- mobile officials are eyeing, perhaps five times the size of “Lola,” however, is a next-generation unit, flexible and modular, Ms. Danczak Lyons said.

“For instance,” she said, “fixtures in the book-and-tech mobile can be moved/swapped out to create a computer training lab with countertops, chairs and laptops one day and reconfigured to feature a large selection of books for school visits on another day.”

The new mobile units, such as neighboring Skokie introduced in 2016, feature a hybrid power system with a solar-powered battery. They also have WiFi connectivity inside and out, a backup-camera and other amenities.

In her report, Ms. Danczak Lyons estimated the cost of new vehicle at $350,000 to $400,000.

She estimated the timeline of bringing a new vehicle from concept through design at 18 months.

For instance, though COVID-19 contributed to the delay, the timeline for a new $399,000 bookmobile in the Fountaindale Public Library District in Bolingbrook will be five years when the unit makes its expected debut next March, according to one of the case studies Ms. Danczak Lyons provided the Board.

The Skokie Public Library District started its process to design and order a new book mobile in 2015 and was not ready until the next year to put it into service.

Officials there brought in a consultant to help develop the plan for the new vehicle, including handling the bidding process and procurement, and oversaw the construction/customization process, she noted.

Moving forward, Ms. Danczak Lyons recommended that staff continue research into the issue, updating Board members on their progress as well as the resident feedback they are receiving.

 

Then, she said, “if we feel like there’s more and more energy around this [the book mobile idea], the Library could engage a consultant as other Library Districts have done, and begin the planning process around a new vehicle.

Board members need to understand that it’s a significant capital expense, and that there will be ongoing expenses, she said in her presentation.

In addition, she said, “We’ll need more staff to operate it the way we would want to.”

In brief discussion, Library Board member Terry Soto said she was relieved that Ms. Danczak Lyons included the decision on the bookmobile as part of the wider strategic planning process “because I really think we need to get input from the community and not particularly ask them, ‘Would you like a book or tech mobile?’ … but really find out more about their interests and passions and figure out how all of our services programs … might better meet the needs.

“I don’t have any pre-ordained ideas about what they might want,” Ms. Soto said, “but I want them to just be super, super open about what their interests and passions are and how our different offerings could meet them.”