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Moving branches could reduce inequity

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.

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