EPL’s collection of materials, both physical and digital, is the heart of our work. Our collection spans more than 331,000 books and countless digital media, from children’s to adult, biographies to science fiction, and hard cover to e-magazines. It also spans two locations, the Main Library branch on Church Street, and the Robert Crown Library branch, co-located in the Robert Crown Community Center. EPL’s Collection Development and Materials Manager Betsy Bird states that data demonstrates that, for a public library of its size, EPL’s collection is understocked by 40%. This means that EPL would need to increase its collection spending by more than $200,000 this year in order to serve the community at the optimal level.
More importantly, librarians intentionally add material by people with known underrepresented identities. A recent equity assessment of EPL’s 101 Great Books for Kids lists from 2017-2022 showed that 53% of the titles on the lists have at least one BIPOC creator, compared to 36% of all children’s books. On EPL’s 2022 recommended list for adults, 60% of the books were authored by people with known underrepresented identities. Librarian Brian Wilson said, “We are trying to include titles about and by people of different backgrounds. Authentic voices that reflect the diversity of the Evanston community, and the world at large – racial, ethnic, gender, LGBTQ, socioeconomic, religion, ability. The hope is that the Evanston community will see themselves and/or their emotional experiences represented in the books on our list.“
EPL also provides digital access to the Evanston community. Work, school, entertainment, and daily life all require access, familiarity, comfort and understanding to perform tasks online. EPL provides programs and services targeting digitally-disadvantaged adults (whether because of lack of access to technology or lack of knowledge of how to use technology) with the goal of increasing their digital literacy. We help bridge the gap in access by providing public computers at our physical locations and WiFi hotspots that patrons can take home. EPL has the largest WiFi lending library program in the state. Additionally, patrons can check-out Chrome books – and we even have a computer vending machine at the Robert Crown branch.We help bridge the gap in familiarity, comfort and understanding by providing classes, workshops and one-on-one assistance to patrons. We structure these lessons so that students learn and practice how to accomplish specific tasks online, but also gain knowledge and understanding of the issues, norms and structures of online environments so that they can evaluate and use other resources on their own in the future.