Evanston library branching out to include Mighty Twig
The Mighty Twig at 900 Chicago Ave.
Updated: February 21, 2013 8:30AM
EVANSTON — Members of the Evanston Public Library Board have given Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons the green light to begin formalizing relations with The Mighty Twig — a volunteer-run library that some of Evanston’s most active citizens started after a former board voted to discontinue the South Branch Library.
At last week’s Library Board meeting, members voted in support of Lyons’ call to make official its affiliation with Evanston Public Library Friends, the citizens group that runs The Mighty Twig, 900 Chicago Ave.
With an agreement, the library would begin committing staffing and other resources, and as much as $103,000 in funds toward the library’s operation in the next fiscal-year budget.
Board members also voted in support of Lyons’ recommendation that the city’s lone library branch, the North Branch, be funded in the budget.
In addition, the new library director (once the No. 2 librarian in the Chicago system and that city’s budget director) received support from board members to launch efforts to explore establishing a library facility on the city’s west side and in other underserved areas.
Dempster-Dodge is one possibility “and should be considered seriously,” she told board members.
But formalizing relations with Evanston Public Library Friends stirred the strongest emotions of the night.
Some of the city’s biggest activists launched a grass-roots effort to establish The Mighty Twig in a storefront in spring 2011.
The “library” is staffed by all volunteers and, against odds, has developed into a thriving niche in the neighborhood, following the South Branch’s closing.
Group members have also proved to be potent fundraisers, supplying the resources for the library, which reportedly costs $160 dollars a day to run.
Lyons told board members the opportunity is ripe to redefine and strengthen the partnership with Evanston Public Library Friends “in a way that is meaningful and that will enhance our ability to raise funds and to provide services (at the site) that are targeted, thoughtful and impactful.”
If a partnership is approved, she asked board members to consider allowing the library to provide support — staffing, more programming, a book holds-pickup, a book drop and materials transfer between locations.
Also discussed was whether The Mighty Twig should undergo a name change to Chicago-Main, referring to its close proximity to that corner.
Board members offered strongly differing opinions on that idea, reflecting the divisions at the time the board decided to discontinue funding for the South Branch, citing budget concerns and the need to consolidate resources in the main library.
Board member Diane Allen spoke against establishing ties with the citizens group, acknowledging their admirable efforts.
“I think we really need to consider that location and consider where a better location would be,” she argued.
Board President Ben Schapiro also warned against committing to a fixed site when trends point away from such moves.
“My experience as a librarian, my experience as a library director (formerly in Morton Grove), tells me that fixed facilities in many cases are not the way to go,” he said. “They’re money holes; they’re staffing holes.”
He added that building “more warehouses — small tiny warehouses for books doesn’t really appeal to me as an effective way to serve public with the limited dollars we have.”
Officials would be better off considering lower-cost measures to provide services to outlying neighborhoods, such as a Bookmobile, he said.
But several others spoke in support of tapping the Friends group’s energy — and fundraising prowess.
Michael Tannen, one of the key members of the Friends group before his appointment to the Library Board, said The Mighty Twig has been far more than a warehouse.
Children from schools across the area use the storefront, including special-needs students at Park School.
He said the library satisfies many of the key goals of the board’s recently adopted strategic plan, providing free community use and access.
“I think about using (their) volunteers and tapping into them,” he said, adding: “When they write the history of what happened in Evanston and what the Friends have done to empower this board, to take control of its own destiny, and then the Twig by themselves ... the idea that private citizens have been manning the trenches and doing what they have been doing for the past two years needs to be embraced and not rejected.”