City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says he sees a variety of options for enhancing library services once the controversy over funding Evanston’s library is resolved.

Bobkiewicz says options could range from installing best-seller vending machines at commmunity centers and other city sites to increasing the use of online databases that residents could access from their home computers as well as from a library building.

In an interview with Evanston Now, the city manager noted that the city-owned Howard Street police outpost building is lightly used by the police and potentially could do double duty as an outpost for the library, perhaps along the lines of the reading stop the library operated this summer in a rented storefront at the Evanston Plaza shopping center.

The key thing, Bobkiewicz said, is to ramp up the user base for the library without having to dramatically increase costs.

Currently only about 10 percent of Evanstonians borrow materials from the library during a given year.

He said commercial companies could provide the book vending machines and keep them stocked — relieving the library of the cost of buying those books and then disposing of them once public interest in the titles has diminished.

He said he hopes Wednesday’s vote by the library board to plan for only a modest increase to the budget this year can lead to agreement on a longer-term strategy for more efficient and effective library services.

The book vending machine concept is already being used by the Contra Costa County, Calif., library system, where it’s called Library-a-Go-Go and uses equipment from a company that claims to have installed more than 3,500 such machines worldwide. In addition, the library in Palm Harbor, Fla. has announced plans to roll out a book vending machine system this month.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. My Use of the Library

    I like Mr. Bobkiewicz’s thinking on this. For me, increased access to online databases would be personally and vocationally very valuable. However, it depends what that means. Complete LexisNexis would be fantastic. Full text articles from more vendors would be great, especially from scholarly or academic or scientific journals, but probably a considerably higher subscription payment for the library. If you’ve ever searched online for articles in specialized areas of study, you know how expensive copies of articles can be. More access to them would benefit anyone with an Evanston Library card. Personally, I use the library a lot for Inter Library Loans, which I consider essential to me, often far more than the library collection itself. Speaking utterly selfishly, increased online access to full text articles and continued access to all manner of ILL books at one central location would keep me in good stead. However, I doubt if this pattern of use may suit a majority of Evanston library users.

  2. Now THAT is funny!

    This article is a joke, right? Like the Onion?

    Only 10% of Evanston uses our library, and the City Manager wants that to improve, but where are our banners for National Library Card Month awareness? Actually, only 10% of people may borrow materials – but in my house, that’s 5 of us using one card usually. Plus, it doesn’t take into consideration visits to the library where perhaps nothing was checked out. Maybe a newspaper was read, or the internet accessed.

    Also, nearly 4,000 Evanston residents per month use the Wilmette library and last month, in August, 9,000 Evanston residents used the Skokie library. That’s probably because, as the NSLS said in a letter to the Mayor and City Council, that our library system is the most chronically underfunded of any in their system. 

    If the City Manager really thinks that vending machines of best-sellers will replace our libraries, then he clearly doesn’t know what the community wants and hasn’t been paying attention lo these past 10 months to the hundreds of citizens who have come to the mic in support of strengthening our system and funding it properly so that Evanston residents can use Evanston libraries.  

    Either way, thanks for the laugh. 


    1. Purpose of libraries in 21st century

       Wally B. has the right idea.  Libraries need to change if they are going to be relevant in the future.  No more quiet rooms with stuffy leather-bound books (like the private library at 225 Greenwood where Chuckie Dawes sat and smoke his cigars)   and sets of World Book Encyclopedias on the shelves.  The paper copies of periodicals, even the paper subscription to the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, seem unnecessary.  

       Vending machines are a nice start…I really don’t see why we need to pay a librarian to help people check out a copies  of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" or "The Lost Symbol"…something like a Redbox machine can handle that.

      Rarely used books that occupy a lot of space should be retired, and replaced with e-books, database subscriptions, and on-demand printing.  Pop-up libraries could appear at different locations through the city – librarians would spend their time instructing people and assisting in research and enquiry , not cataloging.   Meeting rooms at the Main Library (on the 1st and 3rd floors) could be added or  upgraded with video facilities. Authors could have book readings and book clubs could meet in the Main Library, librarians could work with literacy organizations (like Ms. Harris’ ) or schools , while the mobile facilities would make services accessible to people who can’t make it to the Main Library.  ( I suspect that in many cases, the people who can’t make it to the Main Library also can’t make it to the branches – either due to mobility issues or time constraints.  Branch libraries don’t help them.)

      As for the 4000 Evanston residents using the Wilmette Library – that seems to demonstrate the inadequacy of the North Branch.  An anemic North Branch is no competition for Wilmette…it is better to let people just drive up to Wilmette if they don’t want to come downtown.  Let the North Branch die…

       The Skokie  Library usage demonstrates two things:  first, it suggests that residents of the west side of Evanston are underserved.  Keeping the North and South branches is no help – and we can’t afford to add a permanent West branch, so maybe the mobile kiosks are the way to go. 

      Second, it demonstrates that people are capable of traveling to go to the libraries.  If they can travel to Skokie, they can travel to Evanston’s Main Library.

        Why do they choose Skokie?  Better collection?  Nicer facilities?  So how is that an argument for keeping the wasteful branch libraries?

      Instead of maintaining expensive branch libraries, we should improve the collections and services at Evanston Main to compete with Skokie’s SINGLE library and Wilmette’s SINGLE library.

    2. I don’t use the Wilmette

      I don’t use the Wilmette library because,as you reported, Evanston’s libraries are "the most chronically underfunded of any in the system". It is simply because Wilmette doe not allow the congregation and loitering of the vagrants that Evanston does. Our main library looks more like a bus terminal in New York city. Because of the crowds lounging and asking for money out front and the cleaning up in the washroom sinks, I have given up.

      1. Oh yes to that! And also

        Oh yes to that! And also walking through Fountain Square, shopping at CVS or Whole Foods or Jewel, stopping at Starbucks … the list is long. Why is it OK for taxpaying, revenue-sustaining citizens to be held hostage?

      2. I feel good about those people

        I like that I live in a city that is compassionate enough to share our assets … libraries, public spaces, etc … with those less fortunate.  I am reminded everytime I pass someone asking for money or who appears to be mentally ill or homeless how fortunate I am. 

        And I will add that many meaningful conversations have come from discussing these same people with my children when we come across them together.  Growing up in a privileged, homogeneous community I did not learn these lessons as a child.

    3. Correction on Use of Skokie Public Library by Evanston residents

      Many residents of all of the suburbs surrounding Skokie have registered their cards at Skokie Public Library in order to check out materials. However, the number shown above is not accurate.

      During August 2010, 344 Evanston residents checked out a total of 8,738 items from Skokie Public Library. There are currently 1,379 people with Evanston library cards who have registered their cards at Skokie. We have no way of knowing how many Evanston residents used Skokie Public Library without using any card or how many of those 344 people checked out materials on more than one occasion during August.

      Christie Robinson, Manager of Marketing and Programs, Skokie Public Library

      1. The Library Friends are not Good With Numbers

        Thanks, Christine, for the clarification.

        Most observers of the North Evanston Library supporters understand that they fudge figures to support whatever argument they happen to be pushing at a particular point of time.

        They defend a "Sustainable Financing Report" that doesn’t even deal with actual financing.

        We appreciate your clarification, Christine.

  3. More than just checking out books

    It’s good to see that Mr. Bobkiewicz is brainstorming ideas to support literacy.  I do not know the economics of purchasing new adult book releases, but his idea sounds promising for consolidating costs in this area.

    The comments from the Dr. Who Knows above are also relevant.   Our library system does need to change to adapt with the times.   How many of us are starting to read books on Kindle, read newspapers online, and conduct book clubs via the internet?  I know I am.    I think there’s a good chance that by the time my 6 and 4 year old daughters get to college that they will never purchase a hard cover text book.

    Our society is rapidly moving towards technology as a means to gain information.   We read on our computers, we research online, we chat online, some people even date over the internet.    The downside of these computer interactions is that there is a loss of face-face human interaction.   To me, the library, along with schools and park district buildings, are some of the few remaining outposts in America where people of all walks of life can communicate and learn together, insulated from our increasingly consumer culture.

    What will the libraries of the future look like?  Perhaps more computers with librarians trained to help patrons with research papers, web page creation, or online job searches.  Maybe more tables and work spaces for children to come after school to finish homework.  Or a section with comfortable chairs for people to read a Kindle or other computerized book on a library device.  Maybe more spaces for book clubs or young parent groups to meet.

    It is good to look envision the future and plan accordingly.  However, I think we must also look to the past for guidance.  In 1870, the new Evanston library constitution was founded “To establish and maintain a public library and reading room, and, in connection with this, by all suitable means to awaken a desire for sound knowledge and a correct taste, and to provide for the gratification of the same among all classes of the community”  (

    Many, including the Mayor, say that we can not afford the branch libraries due to economic times, and we should settle with just a “good” library system, not a great one.   My grandparents generation must have felt differently, considering South Branch library was opened in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression.

    Is our common goal to continue awakening a desire of knowledge in all classes of our community?  I would argue, yes.  We proudly chose to live in a diverse community that boasts outstanding schools, and a commitment to betterment of all people.   Let’s put our money behind these beliefs.  Make the library and the branches a priority, not because of what they are now, but because of what they could be to our children.      

     -Jennifer Preschern and Family

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