One of the criticisms of Evanston’s current branch library system is that it provides no easily accessible service for residents on the city’s west and southwest sides.

But the city’s budget crunch has cut off serious discussion of adding additional branches to the system.

One of the criticisms of Evanston’s current branch library system is that it provides no easily accessible service for residents on the city’s west and southwest sides.

But the city’s budget crunch has cut off serious discussion of adding additional branches to the system.

So, Evanston Now decided to take a look at what would happen if, instead of adding branches, the city chose to relocate the current ones.

We haven’t found much data to suggest how big an area other communities estimate their branch libraries should serve. But we did locate one report, from Windsor, the Canadian city just across the river from Detroit, Mich., that says its library board strives to locate a branch within about 1.25 miles, or a 20-minute walk, from each resident.

We then plotted 1.25-mile radius circles around each of the city’s current library branches on a map of Evanston.

Grey circles show 1.25 mile radius around current Evanston libraries.

The map shows that the west and southwest sections of town, and a portion of northwest Evanston, fall outside the 20-minute-walk-to zones.

Then, as an example of a possible alternative approach, we adjusted the map to show what the coverage would look like if the north branch were moved to the location of the Evanston Ecology Center at Bridge Street and McCormick Boulevard and if the south branch were relocated to the current site of the Evanston Township offices at Main Street and Dodge Avenue.

Walk-to library zones if branches were moved.

We chose the alternative north branch location because the city has a long term lease on the Ecology Center site from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and sale of the city-owned current north branch site could generate capital funds for a library addition to the Ecology Center. It would also place a prime commercial district property back on the tax roles. We also imagine that the city might achieve some staffing efficiencies by sharing staff between a new branch library and the Ecology Center.


The Evanston Ecology Center.

We chose the alternative south branch location because the city is hoping to move the township offices to the Civic Center as a cost-cutting move, but the township has several years left on the current building’s lease. We also understand that tentative plans for rebuilding the Robert Crown Center across the intersection from the township offices may include space for a branch library, which might be ready by the time the lease on the township offices expires.


The Evanston Township offices.

As seen from the map, the relocation would eliminate the service area gaps that have existed on the west and southwest sides as long as Evanston has had branch libraries.

It would somewhat reshape, without substantially enlarging, the existing gap in northwest Evanston.

It would create new gaps in southeast Evanston and far northeast Evanston. But we suspect that the ready access to the el from those neighborhoods somewhat ameliorate the service gaps, by making it relatively easier for residents of those neighborhoods to reach the downtown library. In addition part of the gap zone in southeast Evanston is occupied by Calvary Cemetery, which doesn’t generate any demand for library services.

An alternative south branch location somewhat further east along Main Street — perhaps at the site of the park at Main Street and Ridge Avenue — would provide more complete coverage of the southern portion of town, but would require an immediate capital investment in a new structure.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. Creative but Flawed
    The nice thing about the Central Street branch is that Central Street is a destination. This makes the library highly visible and convenient for those visiting the shops.

    The same is true of the South branch.

    A less visible location would probably get much less traffic.

    But kudos to you for some creative thinking on costs!

  2. You build it but will they come ?
    The editorial discribes a better branch distribution but:
    It is just “re-arranging desk chairs on the Titanic”—we still have a budget problem.
    We still don’t know why people go to the branches—for recreational books or educational purposes. Or even how many actually use the branches—this seems in dispute.
    Will the mothers [seem to be the ones commenting most on this] go to branches in the proposed sites ? Do they want it “in their neighborhood” no matter what ? Will they be so happy to go to a branch much closer to what they probably describe as “…poor people live” and they fear running into the same type of people they want to avoid at EPL-Main ? What about more kids there—the same ones supposedly they argue need a library—remember the re-located north branch would be a couple of blocks from the west side branch that closed.
    What about the elderly they have said need easy walking access to the library ? Is that still true if the elderly are not of the same economic status as those around Central or east side of Chicago Ave. ?
    Would those who proposed private funding efforts, lobby [as hard] for a branch at those locations—even if physically closer to them but not “their kind of people” ?

  3. What about a Police Dept. Branch ?
    If we talk about neighborhood library branches, is it not even more important to have police department branches—that sounds like a more urgent need ?
    Would a branch in south and west Evanston help in cutting the crime rate by police presence ? reduce response time ? make sure people in the area know who their policemen are and where they can find someone ? allow the police to know the neighborhood and residents better and gain their trust ?

    Technically I guess we have fire stations in the neighborhoods though with the station on west Central having to be completely rebuilt, it would have seemed a different placement would have made sense.

    1. We do have a ‘branch’ police
      We do have a ‘branch’ police station…it’s called the Howard Street Outpost. The other ‘branch’ station was located on the west side (Darrow/Lyons) for years. However, it was closed down and the city has decided to utilize a $50,000, unmanned, camera systems instead(Dodge/Foster).

  4. No other concommitant size
    No other concommitant size city has branch libraries. They are a luxury no longer sustainable. Reading, despite the frantic protests of the cloistered, is not dependant on the easiet access, but on the desire. Instead, focus on bringing the schools into focus on this issue, and, BTW, my mother used to read to me, not the libarian. I learned to love literature from my parents and teachers. My parents never foisted their responsiblities on a stranger. Close the branches and enhance the main library services. When I was a kid I wasn’t reluctant to walk 2.2 miles to the library. It was good for my body and mind. Bring back the bookmobile for the elderly. As for the police outposts, close them, rarely staffed anyway!

    1. Oak Park has three branches
      Oak Park which is smaller than Evanston in both actual area and
      population has three branches.

      1. Three?
        The claim of three branches would come as news to anyone in Oak Park – particularly their library and its website. The OPPL website (oppl.org) lists two branches, Dove and Maze.

        Now, it is true that they have three libraries, the third being the Main Library, but it’s hardly a semantic quibble. Especially in Evanston, equating the North and South Branches with the Main Library is a rhetorical attempt to give them equal weight – like relabeling the Estate Tax a “Death Tax.” Our (and from appearances, Oak Park’s) branches are not the equals of the Main Library in size, patron use, collection, staffing, or resources.

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