As long as you can pick up food curbside in Evanston, you might as well be able to pick up food for thought. So the Evanston Public Library has started “contact-free” distribution of books to library cardholders at the Main Library downtown.

Library buildings — downtown and the three branches — have been closed since the statewide stay-in-place order was implemented. While libraries can, in theory, start re-opening now with very strict limits on the number of people inside, the Evanston system remains closed for the time being.

But ‘’contact-free” book pickup is a way to retain contact with those who need to read.

There was a “soft opening” of the pickup system the past week, for those who had reserved books before the mid-March shutdown. But now anyone with a library card can order a book and then pick it up.

And a lot of people are doing just that. Library spokesperson Jill Schacter says that on a normal day before the pandemic, there were about 100 holds requested for library materials.  Now, she says there are about 500.  “There is a lot of pent-up demand.”

Books can either be reserved online or by phone. The library will then get back to you via email, and arrange a pickup time.

If you’re driving, go to the underground garage off Orrington Avenue. Pop your trunk and your pre-bagged books will be loaded in.

If you’re walking, follow the signs outside to the designated pickup area, where your items will be waiting. Schacter says this is “a very safe way” to distribute books, for both patrons and library employees.

It may take a few days between reserving a book and getting one, as demand is high, and, as one librarian said, “there are a lot of moving parts.”  

“Contact free” pickup may come to the Robert Crown branch soon, although no date has been set.

There is also no timetable for re-opening the entire system for patrons to walk in as before coronavirus. Libraries are not specifically mentioned in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan, so the Evanston library is consulting with other similar agencies to help plan the future.

Schacter says the first thing which might be made available inside is computers. There is an “urgent need,” she says, to provide computer access for those who do not have it at home. “We are looking,” she adds, “to fill the most urgent needs first.”

Small group meetings and very limited library seating with social distancing may then be restored, but no earlier than Sept. 1 at the Main and Crown branches The North branch and Chicago/Main would remain closed.

Beyond that is a huge question. The Library’s action plan states that the “full span of library services are reintroduced” only when Illinois enters Phase 5 of the Governor’s re-opening plan. And Phase 5 does not start until there is either a vaccine or treatment option for COVID-19. That may be a long way off.

But for now, curbside pickup is picking up the level of public enthusiasm for the library. “We are really excited and super-delighted at the public’s response,” says Schacter. And a library patron who picked up her books this afternoon put it this way: “It’s terrific.”

To reserve a book for “contact-free” pickup, go to the library’s online catalog, or call 847-448-8630.

You are allowed to keep the materials until notified by the library. Returns are not yet being accepted.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Books and Covid-19

    Can the books be contaminated with the virus and what precautions should we take?

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