Viewpoint: Focus support on main library
As a resident of Evanston, I hear various opinions about library services and I have decided to join the debate.
I write this to encourage everyone to consider very carefully how public monies are spent during this period of economic stress and to encourage everyone to make full use of our wonderful Evanston Public Library at 1703 Orrington Ave.
I live in north Evanston and have noticed that some people have signs (provided by the organization Evanston Public Library Friends) on their property, which say "Libraries Yes" or "Save Our Branch Library."
I think that Evanston Public Library is a great asset to Evanston and am pleased to see expressions of support.
The grassroots organization EPL Friends has expressed passionate feelings about library service and works with determination on its project, The Mighty Twig. The EPL Friends website states that they have more than 3,000 family memberships; that's about 19 percent of the 15,952 families reported by the 2000 Census. I am not a member of EPL Friends, so I am giving just one opinion from among the other 81 percent.
What I see on the EPL Friends website presents a limited view of what constitutes a desirable library and that approach limits their access to good library service.
The support expressed by EPL Friends is focused too narrowly on neighborhood library access, which suggests a lack of appreciation for the EPL main library. EPL Friends have presented their views clearly, which I respect; however I want to present another point of view for your consideration.
EPL Friends refer affectionately to the "branch library" at 2026 Central St. as "our library". It is a romantic and nostalgic notion to support the local library, but that is not a library worthy of this community. I do not use the Central Street facility, because it falls far short of what we want and need from our libraries in America in the 21st Century.
In many small villages in developing countries, that part-time room on Central Street would indeed be their library. In Evanston, we strive for a higher level of library access. Adults seek access to significant information resources and professional assistance.
This is a community which values quality education and has excellent schools. The EPL main library has collections for children of all ages which nicely supplement what they learn in the classroom. Therefore, people should value and make full use of the facilities, the services of the library staff, and the print and electronic resources of the EPL main library at 1703 Orrington Ave. That is "our library".
EPL Friends stress the convenience of having a room (even part-time) in close proximity to their homes, but of course such a benefit applies to only a few residents, the rest of us live farther away.
Evanston has excellent public transportation which quickly takes one to the wonderful EPL main library building at 1703 Orrington Ave., which was opened in 1994, to provide superior library resources, facilities, and services, which are underutilized if people do not avail themselves of those valuable resources.
I'm not advocating taking anything of value away from people, but those who fear the loss of that facility on Central Street are shortchanging themselves. I (and apparently most others) appreciate and use the modern up-to-date American quality library service, which is available at EPL main library.
EPL Friends put a lot of emphasis on a facility for children and their experimental reading station The Mighty Twig is a nice project, which is worthy of their efforts.
However, parents (individually or as groups) should also be aware of the benefits of the facilities and staff of EPL, where they will have access to a wonderful collection of professionally selected children's books and other resources, a professional staff with expertise in assisting children, and special areas for group sessions. That is where a child will gain an understanding and appreciation for everything that a first class library experience can provide.
A friends of the library group works for the library to support its services and enhance its budget. The name EPL Friends is somewhat deceptive, because one has to read their website carefully to ascertain that none of the money which they raise is given to EPL; it is all used for their own activities, such as The Mighty Twig.
But such fund raising ought not be done using the name of EPL, if there is no operational connection with the library administration. EPL has its own Fund for Excellence donor program, so care must be taken to avoid confusion with EPL Friends fund raising.
I agree with the sentiment "Library Yes". Evanston ought to maximize the effectiveness of its financial support for library services by focusing on EPL main library to ensure that our excellent library maintains its quality resources and services, where the residents of Evanston can all come together as a community.
Evanstonian Thomas Mann lives at 2522 Central St.
Top: The third-floor reading room in the Evanston Public Library at 1703 Orrington Ave.