Comparing Evanston’s branch libraries

Evanston’s branch libraries — threatened with closure by the city’s budget crisis — were something of a study in contrasts during brief observational visits today.

Two tots play at an oil-cloth draped table in the North Branch as their caregiver watches and a dragon looks on from atop the book shelves.

The North Branch, at roughly 4,000 square feet, is well over twice as large as the South Branch and shows signs of more recent capital improvements with some new shelving units whose end caps echo the Prairie Style design of the main library downtown.

The South Branch library looks dingy by comparison, with shelving of indeterminant age and sagging leather-look sofas pushed up against the side windows.

A reading table, copier and computer carrels at the South Branch.

Walls at the North Branch appear to have seen fresh blue paint recently, while at the South Branch the beige walls looked like they might not have been painted in a generation.

The South Branch, in space the city rents, was noisy, even with no one talking. Single-pane glass in its front windows let the sound of Chicago Avenue traffic stream in, along with the noise of the two rail lines just to the west.

Readers at the South Branch trade bright light by the windows for noise from the street.

The North Branch, in a building owned by the city, was quiet, with double-pane glass in its front windows that largely hushed the noise of the slower-moving traffic on Central Street.

There were at least three staffers on duty at each of the branches. But the South Branch had more customers during a late-morning visit. An average of about ten patrons were in the building during a 20-minute span. A few stopped in briefly to drop off a book and perhaps pick up another and then headed back out the door.

Others sat around reading newspapers or peering into one of the four computer monitors. The average age of the patrons appeared to be well over 60 years.

Hillary Clinton smiles from a book jacket at the North Branch.

At the North Branch the average patron count during a visit of similar length was about seven — and that included two children too small to be in school on this school day who chattered away. The adults appeared to range from their 30s to retirement age.

Back at the South Branch, someone’s cell phone rang, and once the offender had revealed his or her identity by fumbling for it, another customer, a woman, snipped, “Would it kill you to turn it off when you come to the library?”

And with that, his cell phone already set to vibrate, the reporter left the building.

A poster in a Central Street shop supports continued funding for the branch libraries.

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