Library Love: Evanston Residents Book it to Save Branches

What makes a strong community and a great place to live? For many, the answer is having a public library within walking distance. That’s why a group of Evanston residents—including hundreds of kids—has started a grassroots fundraising effort to save the city’s branch libraries.

When the group, now known as the Evanston Public Library Friends, heard that the North and South branches of the EPL were in danger of closing, they organized themselves, collected more than 1,700 signatures on a petition, and held a Martin Luther King Day rally that was attended by hundreds of concerned citizens and passionate readers.

“Libraries are the great equalizers. You can walk in with a dollar in your pocket and come out with riches,” says Lori Keenan, vice president of the EPLF, which was originally called BranchLove when it formed early this year.

library_small2The group’s actions spurred the Library Board to create a task force to explore sustainable funding options, but in the meantime, the EPLF has to raise $200,000 by September 1 in order to keep the North and South Branches open. They’re already a quarter of the way there. Roughly $28,000 was pledged in the first 48 hours—a testament to the community’s strong attachment to the libraries.

The cause has drawn support from local literary celebrities Scott Turow and Audrey Niffenegger. “I grew up near the [North] branch and I am not too happy to imagine it closing,” Niffenegger wrote to the EPLF. “My mom took us there every week. We could walk. The experience made me a lifelong library user.”

Branch libraries serve the community in a way that the main libraries never can, Keenan says—mainly because kids and seniors can walk to them. Many studies, including a recent one funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attest to the power of libraries. For instance, elementary school reading scores are directly correlated with children’s book lending.

And yet, despite library usage increasing all over the country, library funding is being cut.

“It just doesn’t make sense, in an economic downturn, to be closing libraries,” Keenan says.

The South Branch survived the Great Depression, and actually expanded during that time, adding a reading room, according to Keenan.

The Evanston branch libraries have seen a 37 percent increase in traffic in the past few months. Librarians are constantly assisting unemployed patrons in setting up email accounts and applying for jobs online, according to Branch Manager Connie Hegeghan.

And it’s not as if libraries that close will just magically reappear when boom times return. As Keenan puts it, “If we lose the libraries, they’re gone forever.”

Get Involved

Join the cause. Now through April 17, the end of National Library Week, EPLF is offering free charter membership—a $25 savings—at Evanston Public Library locations and online. By simply becoming a member, you show your support and will receive updates about future events.

Make a Donation: The EPLF is accepting donation pledges, which will be tax-deductible retroactively, once the organization receives nonprofit status.

Read! The EPLF is holding a read-a-thon for kids up to age 18 (and for kids not yet reading, being read to counts). Contributions and sponsorship forms can be turned in at the Read-a-Thon Celebration Events at the downtown branch or either neighborhood branch on Saturday, April 17, from 10:30 a.m.—12 p.m. There are prizes for every level of participation. Find more information on the EPLF website.

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