Library officials seek help on outreach efforts
Evanston Public Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons serves 3-year-old Sebastian Urbanowski a warm cup of hot chocolate during the city's Holiday Bash. | Adam Alexander~For Sun Times Media
Updated: December 30, 2012 3:08PM
EVANSTON — Public Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons easily slipped into the hostess role for the city’s Holiday Bash two weeks ago, serving hot chocolate to patrons gathered in the children’s library.
“I was waiting for the kid who would say, ‘Where’s the marshmallow?’” said Lyons, who clearly enjoyed the role.
Library officials are offering a full range of services these days, though hot chocolate on a daily basis is not yet on the menu.
Board members adopted the Library Fund funding model last year, moving away from the jurisdiction of the city to give the appointed board authority to raise property taxes to pay for services.
With Lyons – formerly No. 2 in the Chicago Public Library System – now at the helm, the board continues to talk with citizens about the value of the library’s collection and programs and to what extent they are willing for those services on their tax bills.
“I look forward to having that conversation,” Lyons said.
For now, though, “during this transition year, as we move toward a new governance model and new funding model, it is important that the property tax remain flat,” she said.
As a result, “to make up the difference between what our aspirations are for 2013 and what the property tax will support, we had to broaden the Fund for Excellence,” she said.
The Fund for Excellence is the name attached to the library’s annual fundraising campaign (To learn more about the Fund or to donate, visit epl.org).
In the past, the fund has gone toward bolstering the library’s materials and collections, totaling $100,000. Library officials set a goal of $250,000 for the end of the year, using the increased money to expand the collections and extend services throughout the city, particularly to the West and South sides.
The library clearly lost some ground on maintaining the collection under the hold of the city, where library services were subject to a series of hold-the-line budgets.
By comparison, neighboring Wilmette paid out $26.06 per resident for collection items compared to $7.10 in Evanston, according to one state library survey based on the 2010 budget.
Library officials have joined with Evanston Public Library Friends in the Fund for Excellence campaign. The grassroots group started the “The Mighty Twig,” and, tapping a force of more than 60 volunteers, made it an important alternative library, lending books and providing free computer stations in the Chicago-Main neighborhood.
Marcia Mahoney, president of the Friends, said the group looks forward to the new partnership between formerly adversarial forces.
The goal of expanding services to the West Side falls squarely within the mission of the Friends, who were instrumental in staffing several satellite library operations, including one at Family Focus-Our Place, 2010 Dewey Ave., in the African-American community.
“To be able to return library services to the West Side of Evanston, so there’s free Internet for kids to do homework, and use Facebook to communicate with friends, so people can look for jobs … to me that’s the really exciting piece of this,” Mahoney said.
Lyons said as soon as the Chicago and Main situation is settled, she hopes to move forward on expanding services.
“Since I arrived seven months ago, one of the themes I heard consistently was we need to do a better job of bringing library services to the West Side of Evanston,” she said. “I’ve also heard from our friends on the South Side of Evanston that we need to do a better job ...,” she said.
Ben Schapiro, president of the Evanston Public Library and former head librarian in Morton Grove, said a contribution to the library makes sense in another way.
“I think with a library when you contribute to the library you have a good sense of how that money is going to be used,” he said. “Most people understand what libraries do, and we’re pretty clear on how we spend that money. Plus, whenever you walk in the door you see that money at work.”