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Evanston Public Library trustees have to set up a process to select the library’s next executive director, Board President Tracy Fulce said last week, succeeding Karen Danczak Lyons, the longtime head, who retired last week.

At last week’s retirement party for Karen Danczak Lyons, from left, former Evanston Library Director Neal Ney and District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon wish her well. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Approaching the search, the Board has established three committee groups, including one that will support Heather Norborg, EPL’s Adult Learning and Literacy Manager, whom the Board tapped to serve as interim Executive Director.

“The plan is for the board to come up with some processes on how we want to approach this,” said Fulce, who joined other community members at a farewell retirement party for Danczak Lyons at the main library on June 16.

“My instinct personally is that Karen cast a long shadow,” she said. “ I think that the longer we take the better chance we have to find someone great. I don’t want to rush that, and I think Heather is phenomenal so I don’t see a strong sense of urgency. I think we have supportive leadership in place and great staff so I think we’ll get there.

“When we do get there,” she added, “we’re definitely going to look to the community to participate. We have a very collegial way of operating as a board and want to make sure that community voice is heard.”

Karen Danczak Lyons (Photo via EPL YouTube)

At the Library Board meeting last week trustees approved a proclamation  honoring Danczak Lyons, following a similar action by the city at its meeting last week.

“Karen led the Evanston Public Library to go beyond the book stacks and the walls of our buildings to engage residents where they live and gather,” the Library’s proclamation read.

The proclamation also noted that “Karen reimagined the library as the heart of the Evanston community, hired a social worker to connect with our most vulnerable residents to community resources and adopted an asset-based community development approach that builds upon and amplifies the power of what our community can accomplish and work together.”

It also pointed to her role “refocusing the library’s decision making process through an equity lens, directing resources to underserved parts of our community, opening the Robert Crown branch library” as well as developing Spanish-language collection and programming.

Trustee Benjamin Schapiro, who serves as Board Treasurer, was on the Library Board that hired Danczak Lyons. At the time, the library was examining becoming independent of the city, looking for greater control of its own budget. The selection preceded the library winning independent status and required the permission of the city, he recalled.

“My goal at the time, and I think this was shared with the other directors, was to find a director that could help us navigate the changes that we were going to go through with this library and negotiate well with the city and understand how to work with non-profits and take us from being a small goal provincial library and make us a real city library that would do Evanston proud,” he said.

“And you know,” he added, “we did that with Karen.”

Joey Rodger, a member of the Evanston Police Department’s clergy team, also stopped by the retirement party to honor Danczak Lyons. “What she’s done is moved the Library out to where the people are, both electronically and in terms of story hours, resources in other languages – she has really made it the community’s public library,” she said.

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.

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  1. There must have been technical issues. One sentence didn’t make sense: (emphasizing the collection that represents an instance diverse voices…)
    Also, it says Edison Public Library instead of Evanston Public Library.

    1. Thank you, Martha. The technical issue here was the editor. I was a wee bit tired. My apologies. I have made the corrections and I am grateful for your post. Susy Schultz