Evanston’s Public Library board, faced with dramatic declines in library usage, has hired a consultant to come up with what it calls a “visonary and forward thinking” plan for library services.

Evanston’s Public Library board, faced with dramatic declines in library usage, has hired a consultant to come up with what it calls a “visonary and forward thinking” plan for library services.

The vacant storefront at 900 Chicago Ave. being considered as a new south branch library location.

Figures for recent months show a year-over-year decline in circulation of 4 percent at the main library, 22 percent at the north branch and 30 percent at the south branch.

The figures cover the months of July through October plus December and January, the only months in the past two years for which comparable figures were available from board meeting packets on the library website.

Library Director Mary Johns said it’s apparent that the 20 percent reduction in library hours at the two branches during the past year has generally not led to patrons shifting their usage to the remaining four days a week the branches are open.

Visits to the libraries have also declined — by 7 percent at the main library, 24 percent at the north branch and 19 percent at the south branch.

About 80 percent of library visits and 86 percent of the library’s circulation occurs at the main library downtown.

The board voted last month to hire consultant Miriam Pollack + Associates to coordinate the planning process without publicly disclosing what the consultant’s fee would be.

Johns today said the consultant will be paid $10,000.

In a news release, the library board said the planning process “will provide an opportunity to listen and gather input from many voices in the community through focus groups, community meetings and online surveys.”

The planning committee includes four library staff members, two library board members, and two “community representatives.”

They are Michael Tannen, of 1010 Elmwood Ave., a board member of the Evanston Public Library Friends group that has advocated for preservation of branch libraries, and Leora Siegel, of 2128 Forestview Rd. the library director at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Library

    Grand. Typical Evanston… spend buckets of dough on a consultant to review library usage. Why not spend it on, you know, programs that build library attendance? Literacy programs? In the end, who'll make out like a bandit? The consultant, of course.

  2. Library

    When a proposed cut is announced, many people take it as a done deal and assume the service no longer exists.

  3. Library Usage

    With the reduction of new books [non-fiction] and magazines that patrons have been seeing for a year, it does not surprise me the number of visits and checkouts is down.   Less and less to come for at least for new materials.  With the continuous effort to keep the branches open, residents assume the reduction of materials will continue and thus less and less reason to go and instead learn about alternatives—NU, Skokie, Wilmette or buy their own books.

    1. with Friends like these

      " With the continuous effort to keep the branches open, residents assume the reduction of materials will continue "

      True.  The Evanston Library Friends really have done a disservice to ALL Evanston library users.

      1. EPLF and new projects for them ?

        Maybe if the Friends have it right about the need for branches for the benefit of students and elderly, then they should also push for mirrors of the Levy Center in each neighborhood since they claim the elderly can't walk to EPL-Main and need the branch—what could be more poorly located than Levy.  Likewise for the benefit of children, build a neighborhood high school in each neighborhood so kids can walk to school and not need parents to drive them each day as do people in my building.

        Plenty of work for the EPLF !

  4. Library

    Once I discovered how fantastic the Skokie library is a few years back, I never returned to the Evanston library. Maybe they should take some cues from Skokie?





    1. Skokie’s library system

      Tim, the reason Skokie's library is so much better is that it's funded at almost 4 times what Evanston funds. The Evanston library collection is about to fall below the minimum standards set by the state for a library. What an embarrassment for Evanston.

      Emily Guthrie


  5. New Vision from Same People?

    If the Library Board is serious about looking to create a new "vision", why are the same people who've made the most recent Library decisions involved on the planning committee?  Why not get a fresh perspective from people who can approach this from a business view, look at the decreasing circulation numbers, and make some difficult, but fiscally-responsible and perhaps innovative recommendations. You're not going to get that from the people listed in this article as being part of the planning committee.

    It seems to me that paying a consultant $10,000 is a waste of money especially when funds are limited.  In a separate article, the Library Director has said that it's going to cost $57,600 for 10 months to keep a potential new South Branch library open with books, internet service and other costs being extra on top of that.  This is while circulation has declined there by 30% and visits by 19%.  Plus another $68,000 is required to keep the North Branch library open for 4 months beyond what's been budgeted.  This is while circulation has declined there by 22% and visits by 24%.

    Wake up everyone…if circulation numbers and visits are down and funding is limited, why are we trying to keep these branches open?  Please do the fiscally-responsible thing and close these branches and use the money targeted for the consultant plus other dollars to invest in the Main Library and other outreach services.  Invite some real "unbiased" community members to join the committee and listen to what they feel is necessary to boost the overall circulation and visits.

    1. If consultants needed, why not NU ?

      IF, and it is a BIG IF, we need a consultant, why not use the NU library administrators ?  They have many people highly trained in library science, administration and running BIG libraries and with staff continuity and institutional memory much longer that I'm sure EPL has.  What they may have questions about, they can use Kellogg experts.

      The Council and various Boards sure seem to have a blind eye to Evanston resources that seems to go much deeper into outright antagonism to NU !

      1. NU as library consultants

        Why not have NU come over and tell us how to run our library?

        1.  Academic libraries work to a very different model in service design, collection development, staffing, management structure and cost analysis.  Their experience while very deep isn't really relevant to the questions confronting EPL.

        2.  Why would NUL or Kellogg do it for free or even less than the amount for the consultant?

        3 Institutional memory isn't really relevant here.  EPL and NUL are different types of libraries. How one institution did things in the past may very likely have no relevance to the other's present situation.

        4.  NUL admin staff may not have the time, interest or qualifications for the job.  Are they out in the market as library consultants?

        1. Why use NU.

          University and public libraries are different but 90% of the same issue occur in both.  The universities have the resources to get answers to what they don't know about.

          Any firm who has used consultants has learned, and thus stopped using, consultants because for the money [$10,000 here] you get:

          1. A first year MBA grad [if that] to

          2. Go through past studies and cut out 'seemingly' relevant information

          3. Paste those pieces together into a document in a [e.g.] MS-Word document

          4. Use the search and replace to change "Your company XYZ…' to 'Your EPL…'

          5. Put a fancy cover on the report

          6. Have a senior partner [never have read] sign the cover letter.

          7. Bill the organization

          When the organization says "this is not what we asked for" and similar things, the consultants will say "you never said you would not consider…" or "you did not give us enough details and guidance…" and charge for a new report.

          Firms generally use consultants when they do not have management and staff who understand the business and or what some "outside" organization to give its stamp of approval to ideas they already have [and tell the consulants] that they know won't be excepted unless some [supposedly] outside firm tells the public [Board] the same thing.

          1. Academic Libraries, Public Libraries and Consultants

            OK my last post on the consultant subject.

            Can you substantiate  your 90% commonality  finding between academic library and public library "model in service design, collection development, staffing, management structure and cost analysis."    Yes both lend books, but to very different audiences and with different objectives.

            Yes consulting firms can do superficial stuff to meet a contract.  But that doesn't inform in any way why EPL went to a consultant or what the consultant's reputation is or what they might produce.

            Consultant get used for a host of reasons – from the bad – "let's justify our preconceived solution" to the better "building in-house expertise will take too long and cost too much."

            Even using a consultant for a recon of the issues (the kind of project you describe) can be very helpful by giving an organization a place to start with their own effort.


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