What I’ve Learned: The Particular Peculiarities of Evanston’s Readers

September 20, 2017

It’s been two years since I started as Evanston Public Library’s Collection Development Manager and I think I’m finally beginning to get a handle on what makes Evanston different from other communities around the country.  Sometimes the things you learn about your new hometown are instantly obvious. Sometimes the quirks come up at the most unlikely of moments.  Here then is a quick rundown of some of the most interesting things I’ve learned about the people who walk through our doors every day.

And the #1 Most Popular Book Display Is . . . . Grammar?

Since starting at this library I took the book displays under my wing. I like doing them. I like tending to them, like a little indoor garden. I like it particularly when they empty out. Book displays are incredibly useful when you have “dead” materials that haven’t circulated in years and need a new lease on life. Now I have done displays on midwifery, cancer, DIY projects, comics, funny books, cookbooks, you name it.  But the #1 most popular display I have ever done was on grammar / language / the roots of English.  No fooling.  I had just inspected the 400 section of the nonfiction books and to my chagrin a bunch of neat looking grammar books just weren’t circulating. Out of pity I made a display of them. Now this display wasn’t next to the elevators on the first floor or anything. No, it was on the back side of the second floor display. Not exact placed in the middle of foot traffic or anything. You wouldn’t know it by the way those books flew off the shelf, though. For the next two weeks I was repeatedly startled by the number of books that circulated. I couldn’t fill those shelves fast enough! So you heard it here first, folks.  When it comes to popularity, nothing appeals to Evanstonians more than the correct usage of the word “whom”.

By the way, if you count yourself among those grammar lovers, allow me to direct your attention to the recent Atlas Obscura article 30 Lost English Words That May Deserve a Comeback.

The MPEG File Has Nothing on the Old-Fashioned CD

You all know that when it comes to e-audiobooks, we’ve got you covered. You can get them instantly without waiting through our nifty Hoopla app or, if you’re willing to wait, you can put your favorite audiobook on hold through Overdrive’s new Libby app. But if you think the rise of e-audio means the demise of physical audiobooks, you have another thing coming. If anything, audiobooks are doing better these days than ever before. We recently had a vendor in that was trying to convince us that audiobooks are on their way out. They brought up some of our statistics and were flummoxed by the fact that here in Evanston our audiobooks show strong, healthy circulations. I’m even getting new suggestions for gaps. For example, a patron pointed out that audiobooks by African-American women need to be increased. Heard you loud and clear. Expect a significant increase from now on.

The Old Gray Lady Has Some Serious Pull

Every Monday I pluck the Book Review section of the New York Times from the 3rd floor and set about checking all the reviews, just to make sure we’re not missing anything. Having done this for a while, I’ve noticed that Evanstonians read the Times pretty faithfully, and take its books suggestions pretty seriously. If the Times likes something then I had better hope I bought lots of copies because that book is going to get some serious holds. Evanston readers read carefully too.  If a book in the Times gets a bad review, not a person in the world picks up the book they panned.

African-American Titles Do Well, and Large Print African-American Titles Do REALLY Well!

Don’t let anyone tell you that diverse books don’t circulate at Evanston Public Library. Titles by black authors may sometimes be difficult to find on our shelves because I failed to buy enough copies. This is something I’ve had to learn over time. Also, I only recently realized that while our fiction and nonfiction do well, it’s the Large Print titles that go out the most sometimes. FYI.

This Town Forced Me to Download a New App (There Are Worse Fates)

Here’s a familiar situation. I’m sitting at the information desk on the second floor of the library (which I do sometimes – stop by and say hi!) and a patron will call me up. “There was a book on NPR when I was driving yesterday that sounded really interesting. Do you have it?” This is a pretty common question and for a while I’d flounder about the NPR website trying to track the books there down. Now I’ve an easier tool at my disposal. The NPR app will allow you track and highlight only the book-related content they’ve produced. And, if I’m being particularly on the ball, this also allows me to buy books that people request as they request them.


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

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