Evanstonians’ diverse expectations are at once consistent and shifting, and the new Evanston Public Library branch that will open at the Robert Crown Community Center in early 2020 is a facility shaped to meet that spectrum.
This city has been a study in diversity on multiple planes for generations. It has and continues to wrestle with imbalances of equity across the communities. There’s a steady target of issues we need to continue to address.
But in Evanston the focus also can get blurry when trying to remain atop the shifting sands of those expectations. Evanston’s demographics are different than 30 years ago. Our budgets are different. Our physical landscape is different. How we address those expectations also needs to be different.
Branches and their locations have a bumpy history in Evanston. The North Branch has seen un-interrupted operation since 1952. The Chicago Avenue – Main Street Branch (CAMS) opened in 2013 after community response to the original South Branch (1917-2011) location closing spawned a private library called The Mighty Twig.
Most notably, the West Branch existed for a very short period on Simpson St. Opened in 1975, it closed in 1981 due to low circulation levels. Hindsight showed the location being too close to other Library facilities and outside of a busy retail business district made success difficult. But to maintain a presence, the Library cooperated in the founding of the Foster Reading Center to continue promoting reading in the neighborhood. The Library continues to produce programs and services for all ages at a number of 5th Ward locations.
The Robert Crown Branch, as it will be called, brings the Library presence further southwest than ever before. In fact, with the addition of this branch to the Main library and CAMS and North branches, virtually every Evanstonian is within 1.5 miles of a facility.
The Robert Crown branch will be a visible testament to the Library’s continued exploration of what equitable access to resources means. A critical feature will be the extended-hour system that will allow Library card holders access to physical materials and computers both before and after regularly staffed hours. Also, many programs at Robert Crown will be bi-lingual, laptops and Chromebooks will be available for checkout, and the library will be a point of wi-fi access and digital literacy in the neighborhood.
Symbolically, the Robert Crown branch makes the new center a truly holistic destination for our entire community. It is a single facility designed for communal meeting, for athletic endeavor, for community connections, and for improving through the various forms of literacy.
The Library is always evaluating its physical footprint across Evanston. What that looks like in generations to come is shaped by budgets, needs and the diverse expectations of this city we serve.