Tucked away in a far southeast corner on the second floor of the main location of Evanston Public Library lies a little dusty room.

It’s not a particularly large space. You’d hardly even know it was there unless you were searching for it.

Across from file cabinets full of Evanston-related news clippings is the Evanstonia Room. Here, folks can research all kinds of things from Evanston’s past.

As you enter, you are greeted by a mysterious marble statue, once found under the steps of the original library building, of a young girl asleep with a serpent mere seconds away from biting her foot. And there, on a back wall high above, are the Evanston authors.

There are no records kept that discuss the decisions made when creating the Evanstonia collection. As the Library’s Collection Development and Materials Manager, I’ve had to piece together the room’s construction over the years.

As far as I can ascertain, while we always kept circulating copies of different items in the collection, the books in the Evanstonia room were identified and selected to be permanent reference items that never leave the space. Occasionally I will find a book of interest to Evanston and its history and add it to the collection, but otherwise it stays fairly static. This may be why I find the Evanston authors shelf so very fascinating.

Evanston authors encompass a wide range of subject matter”. Credit: Betsy Bird

It is, to put it plainly, a hodgepodge.

If there is any rhyme or reason to why some authors have ended up in this room while others have not, I’ve yet to pierce the mystery.

Here you might find books penned by suffragette and prohibitionist Frances Clark Sayers circa 1889 not far from a 1991 Scholastic series title (Peanut Butter & Jelly) by Dorothy Haas. Most of the titles are quite old, but there are some occasional inclusions that were produced within the last 50 years.

The question is – why?

Why did some authors make the cut and not others? What should be the rules for inclusion? It’s utterly baffling, particularly in light of the sheer number of rather important authors and illustrators that live in Evanston right now.

We have award winners like Caldecott Honoree artist Cozbi A. Cabrera and crime novelist Scott Turow, who was once awarded the Order of Lincoln. Remarkable graphic novelists like Emil Ferris, Lucy Knisley and Keiler Roberts reside within our borders. I keep a list of every Evanstonian who gets a book on our shelves, so I know the range.

If we begin to add authors and artists once more to the Evanstonia Room, whom would we add? Would we want to put in creators that write specifically about Evanston?

To be honest, we couldn’t put in everyone. There are just too many to count! 

Maybe instead we’ll make certain they’re always on our circulating shelves, and hold off for now. After all, with new authors moving to town every day, you never have to go far to find an Evanstonian scribe.

Betsy Bird

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

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  1. What is Frances Clark Sayers’ connection to Evanston? I know about Frances Willard but can’t seem to find anything about Sayers living here!