Evanston Public Library Has a Lean Budget But Expansive Outreach and Long-Term Plans

by Shawn Iles and Karen Danczak Lyons (as previously published in the Evanston Roundtable)

The work of the Evanston Public Library is far-reaching, multi-dimensional and personal and is best developed through direct input from those we serve. We are dedicated to meeting the diverse needs and expectations of our residents both within the walls of our libraries and in locations around the community where our residents gather – from schools and parks to community centers.

Our services are available 24/7 through the online resources on our website at epl.org.  We believe everyone deserves the opportunity to improve themselves through the various forms of literacy.

Through an equity lens, we are committed to serving the un- and under-served residents in Evanston, especially in the Fifth, Eighth and Ninth wards.  As we pilot new service models at new locations, we will be realigning our resources. This may mean adjusting service hours at our libraries and redeploying staff to address service equity. With an operating budget significantly leaner than comparable area libraries, EPL meticulously budgets and works diligently to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

As we continue to explore the definition of equity in Evanston, it is our goal to co-create our library services with the residents we seek to serve. By listening, building relationships and engaging in honest, respectful dialogue, we hear from both new voices and long-time patrons. We take feedback seriously and encourage you to connect with us through any means: whether that’s talking directly to library employees, filling out a “comment” form on our website or calling on the phone. We are absolutely committed to experimenting and finding new ways to provide library service throughout Evanston.

There are many ways we work to encourage dialogue. Trustees attend community meetings and reserve time before board meetings to meet with the community.  Our Executive Director and engagement staff visit businesses, library partners and residents throughout the City seeking input and convening community conversations. Residents are invited to complete surveys.

The EPL was founded in 1873. Over the passing years, our City has changed and so has the business of the Library as we continuously evolve to meet new needs. When we opened the doors of the new Main Library 25 years ago, we looked for books and other materials through a card catalogue. Online databases, streaming video, E-books, computers with internet access, free Wi-Fi within the library, and circulating Wi-Fi hotspots to take home – none of these services was available in the past.

Today we bridge the digital divide and provide a safety net for our most at-risk residents, including those who suffer with memory loss, and individuals struggling with homelessness or mental illness. We have a full-time social worker, one of very few libraries providing this service. We provide spaces and programs for our teens to explore the boundaries of their curiosity and talents. We support new parents and help grow the next generation of readers. All of these services and too many to catalogue here are available to everyone each day.

As community needs and issues evolve, we continue to develop and sustain an engaged relationship with the Evanston community so that we can evolve organically along with you. We have not always gotten this right. We are trying new approaches including learning together about Asset Based Community Development: creating new library services by recognizing the existing strengths inherent in our community and letting those strengths guide us towards how we can do better for all of Evanston. We have convened a joint Board/Staff/Resident Racial Equity Task Force to review our library through an equity lens.

We are committed to doing a better job of engaging with you – finding out what you want to share; learning about your aspirations; listening to your observations and uncovering your unmet needs.

These efforts are intended to bring our work into alignment with your vision of library service and constantly affirm that we are working alongside you and contributing to your vision for a more equitable Evanston.

One hallmark of a good library is that the work it does reflects the needs and aspirations of the community. We will keep holding up that mirror. We count on you to let us know what you see there.

Mr. Iles is President of the Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees and Ms. Danczak Lyons is the Executive Director of the Evanston Public Library.

Racial Equity Task Force Begins Its Work

Based on a recommendation in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion report prepared last fall by DeEtta Jones and Associates, the Evanston Public Library has created a Racial Equity Task Force. The task force is designed to represent the voices of people of color in the community as the Library continues to work toward becoming an equitable organization. The Task Force has met regularly since August and meets twice a month on Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

The Racial Equity Task Force is made up of eight community members, all people of color. Some are educators who deal daily with the issues of equity and inclusion in the schools where they teach. Four Library staff members and two members of the Library Board of Trustees also serve on the task force.

The task force has begun by reviewing the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion assessment, and identifying barriers that exist across the community. A primary intention is to reach under-served residents, especially in the 5th, 8th, and 9th wards. On the Library’s part, the goal is to own its portion of the institutional racism that exists in Evanston, which was acknowledged by this summer’s resolution adopted unanimously by the Evanston City Council to affirm the City’s commitment to end structural racism and achieve racial equity.

“We are listening to what the task force is telling us about how people of color perceive the library and its relevance to their day-to-day lives. Our growing understanding is that this community wants us to better understand their needs and tailor our efforts to meet them where they are. We are using their equity lens to help identify and break down the barriers that exist to provide greater access to those who need the most,” says Assistant Library Director Teri Campbell. “We are excited by their willingness to brainstorm thoughts and ideas about how to become a more inclusive organization.”

EPL intends to use the work of the task force to create a more welcoming atmosphere in the Library for those who may be uncomfortable within it, or to become more enticing for those who may not yet use Library services. The task force will also help determine how the Library can best present itself while working outside library walls in the broader community. The overall goal is to expand the library’s reach in a way that is most sensitive to the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The member of the Racial Equity Task Force are:

Community Members

Jenna Arceneaux: Ward 5 resident

Juan Campoverde: Ward 9 resident

Nicholas Davis: Ward 2 resident

Tracy Fulce: Ward 2 resident

Joshua Hall: Ward 9 resident

Linnea Latimer: Ward 5 resident

Lisa Montgomery: Ward 3 resident

Amanda Richardson: Ward 4 resident

Board members:

Rachel Hayman: Ward 3 resident

Terry Soto: Ward 9 resident

Library Staff: 

Carmen Francellno: Ward 9 resident

Jose Maldonado

Lorena Neal: Ward 7 resident

Teri Campbell

EPL Releases Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Assessment/ EPL Publica el Informe de Equidad, Diversidad e Inclusión

Haga clic aquí para leer en español

Evanston Public LibraryResults from an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) study conducted this year by the Evanston Public Library (EPL) reinforced community wishes for a greater library presence in the neighborhoods. While many of the recommendations put forth by consultant  DeEtta Jones and Associates (DJA) are in motion, others are new and getting immediate attention.

Community members are encouraged to read the report which is posted online at epl.org/equityreport  and available in hard copy at all library locations.  Community members are also encouraged to offer comments/feedback through November 30 online or via paper comment form at all Library locations.

“While the study validated some of our strategies and activities, it also pointed to new ways for connecting with all of our communities,” says Karen Danczak Lyons, director of the EPL. “We are absolutely and continuously committed to meeting the diverse expectations and needs of Evanston residents. A priority for us now is exploring how to more effectively engage and support the African-American community. We recognize that a history of racism and ongoing racial disparities in our country, in our community, and in our institutions creates real trust issues that require a longstanding commitment, thoughtful action, constant work and honest dialogue to overcome. More effectively engaging with Latinx residents will be another continual area of focus. A new Latinx Community Engagement Librarian, Mariana Bojorquez joined the Library staff in August after an extensive search. We are committed to working with all stakeholders to co-create a Library that best serves all of our residents.”

The most visible request sought by community members participating in the assessment is a library footprint in the Fifth Ward. Beyond existing Library programs and partnerships there, and EPL wi-fi hotspot usage in the area, Jones recommends that the Library find a way to ‘establish a meaningful presence in the Fifth Ward, one that is informed by people who live in that community…and with community partners.

“Ensuring the Library is addressing all of its constituents’ needs or desires requires candid conversations,” says DeEtta Jones, principal of DJA. “For this study, we made sure to gather insights not only from the community, but also from inside the library. Those voices helped paint a picture of readiness to engage the diverse communities, as well as identifying the obstacles to doing so.”

Other recommendations from the study include:

  • Embed EDI metrics into the Library’s practice; use the organization’s values and metrics to drive decision-making
  • Embed EDI into the Library’s communication strategy
  • Increase the representation of people of color on staff
  • Shift the focus of programs and services from passive to active engagement
  • Work directly with the Equity and Empowerment Officer to create a city-wide engagement assessment process
  • Offer professional development experiences that enhance the cultural competence of EPL staff
  • Engage members of diverse communities to help inform and shape Library offerings
  • Establish an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) committee comprised of EPL staff
  • Create a group focused on equity, race and diversity composed of Library staff and community members.

The study was conducted between January and September of 2018. DJA interviewed more than 100 community members and leaders, individually and in small and larger groups, from across Evanston’s racially and economically diverse spectrum. Questions posed included:

– What is the EPL doing particularly well related to how they serve and collaborate with the diverse communities in Evanston?

– What are the/your unmet needs/expectations?

–  What would a satisfactory outcome of EPL’s current focus on an equity, diversity and inclusion assessment and strategy look like for you?

– Are there specific areas where you would like them to focus new or different energy?

Equity and the Evanston Public Library Collections: Contemporary Fiction

June 8, 2017

Libraries nationwide have been reassessing their collections through the lens of diversity and equity.  As Julie Stivers and Sandra Hughes-Hassell wrote on the YALSA blog in 2015, ” focusing on diversity is not an extra facet of our job. It is central to what we do.” Evanston Public Library is no different but coming up with an accurate assessment can be tricky. Historically no library has ever kept track of the race of the authors and illustrators of books on the shelves in a systematic manner.  We can eyeball the collection but locating strict numbers about how inclusive a collection is requires more hard dedicated work.  That said, it is imperative that collections reflect the needs and wants of their communities, aligning with  social justice efforts, and we here at the library MUST strive to do everything we can to improve the number of diverse titles purchased on a daily basis.

One of the many ways I’ve been assessing the collection is to look at other libraries and what they’re doing.  The Madison Public Library has been a leader in these efforts.  As they say on their website:

In 2014, the City of Madison undertook a deliberate, focused and organized effort called the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative (RESJI).  One of the guiding principles of the City’s RESJI is authentic, ongoing public engagement and participation, with the goal of changing the culture of our city – including addressing institutional racism. The city, and the library, are committed to supporting and aligning with other racial equity and social justice efforts – including the work being done by community organizations.

As part of that effort, Madison created an extensive and exhaustive list of Racial Equity Resources. I am pleased to announce that on this blog we’ll be launching a new series where we identify different lists in total and note where you can find them at Evanston Public Library (with links to our catalog).  Today we examine the Contemporary Adult Fiction list found on Madison Public Library’s Racial Equity Resources website. How many have you read?

by Suzanne Feldman
ISBN: 9781627794534
Year: 2016

A spellbinding debut about half sisters, one black and one white, on a 1950s road trip through the American South

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
ISBN: 9780307271082
Year: 2013

From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

by Jacqueline Woodson
ISBN: 9780062359988
Year: 2016

Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything–until it wasn’t.

by Barbara Hambly
ISBN: 0553102583
Year: 1997

Start with the first in the Benjamin January series, A Free Man of Color


by Otto Penzler
ISBN: 9781605980577
Year: 2009

The best of mystery and crime fiction produced by African-American writers.

by Sherman Alexie ; Sam Redman (Editor)
ISBN: 9780802120397
Year: 2012

A bold and irreverent observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the daring, versatile, funny, and outrageous Alexie showcases all his talents in his newest collection, Blasphemy, where he unites fifteen beloved classics with fifteen new stories in one sweeping anthology for devoted fans and first-time readers.

by James Hannaham
ISBN: 9780316284943
Year: 2015

Held captive by her employers–and by her own demons–on a mysterious farm, a widow struggles to reunite with her young son in this uniquely American story of freedom, perseverance, and survival.

by Leslie Marmon Silko
ISBN: 0684811545
Year: 1999

A magical combination of childhood idyll and bitter reality eloquently depicts the jungles of Brazil, and the great cities of the East. A child of an ancient Indian tribe, Indigo is orphaned when soldiers raid and destroy her town. She is adopted by an American family, but the white education forced upon her clashes with the centuries-old wisdom of her people.

by Toni Morrison
ISBN: 9780307594167
Year: 2012

The story of a Korean war veteran on a quest to save his younger sister. Frank Money is an angry, broken veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars.

by Sandra Cisneros
ISBN: 9780679734772
Year: 1984

The story of a young girl, Ezperanza, growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn’t want to belong, not to her run-down neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Capturing her thoughts and emotions in poems and stories, she is able to rise above hopelessness and create a quiet space for herself in the midst of her oppressive surroundings.

by Octavia E. Butler
ISBN: 0807083690
Year: 2003

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

by Mat Johnson
ISBN: 9780812993455
Year: 2015

Warren Duffy has returned to America for all the worst reasons: his marriage to a beautiful Welsh woman has come apart; his comic shop in Cardiff has failed; and his Irish-American father has died, bequeathing to Warren his last possession, a roofless, half-renovated mansion in the heart of black Philadelphia. In the face of a teenage girl he meets at a comics convention he sees the mingled features of his white father and his black mother, both now dead. The girl is his daughter and she thinks she’s white. Warren sets off to remake his life with a reluctant daughter he never knew.

by Chang-rae Lee
ISBN: 1587242893
Year: 1995

A clash of ethnic and professional loyalties is the subject of this novel. The protagonist is a Korean-American who works for a private intelligence service and is assigned to spy on a rising Korean-American politician. To blow the whistle on a fellow ethnic would hurt his tribe, on the other hand there is his professional reputation to consider.

by Natalie Baszile
ISBN: 9780670026135
Year: 2014

A mother-daughter story of reinvention–about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana.

by Victoria Christopher Murray
ISBN: 9781476792996
Year: 2015

Janice Johnson’s 16-year-old son was murdered and the shooter hasn’t been arrested. Shelly Vance’s husband is facing murder charges for shooting a teenager who he says attacked him in a parking lot. This tragedy is magnified by the racial divide it has created. She wants to stand by her man, but she’s keeping a secret that could blow the case wide open. Alax Wilson is the jury foreman. Faced with a dramatic trial that has turned into a media frenzy, Janice, Shelly and Alax are forced to face their own prejudices.

by Sherman Alexie ; Ellen Forney (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780316013680
Year: 2007

Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

by David Wong Louie
ISBN: 0399146032
Year: 2000

 “In a tale that alternates between black comedy and out-and-out slapstick, David Wong Louie explores the painful alienation between a Chinese-American man and his immigrant father–a conflict that is deepened by the son’s decision to become a chef instead of a doctor.” Source: Ingram

by Junot Diaz
ISBN: 9781594489587
Year: 2007

D’az immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss.

by Peter Ho Davies
ISBN: 9780544263703
Year: 2016

The Fortunes recasts American history through the lives of Chinese Americans and reimagines the multigenerational novel through the fractures of immigrant family experience.

by Heidi W. Durrow
ISBN: 9781565126800
Year: 2010

After a family tragedy orphans her, Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., moves into her grandmother’s mostly black community in the 1980s, where she must swallow her grief and confront her identity as a biracial woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

by Edward P. Jones
ISBN: 0060557540
Year: 2003

An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians — and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.

by Yvvette Edwards
ISBN: 9780062440778
Year: 2016

A beautiful, engrossing novel that illuminates some of the most important and troubling issues of our time, The Mother is a moving portrait of love, tragedy, and survival–and the aftershocks from a momentary act of cruel violence that transforms the lives of everyone it touches.

by Mohsin Hamid
ISBN: 9780151013043
Year: 2007

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite “valuation” firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past.

by Louise Erdrich
ISBN: 9780062065247
Year: 2012

When his mother, a tribal enrollment specialist living on a reservation in North Dakota, slips into an abyss of depression after being brutally attacked, 14-year-old Joe Coutz sets out with his three friends to find the person that destroyed his family.

by Paul Beatty
ISBN: 9780374260507
Year: 2015

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality–the black Chinese restaurant.

by Jason Overstreet
ISBN: 9781496701763
Year: 2016

For college graduate Sidney Temple, the Roaring Twenties bring opportunities even members of his accomplished black bourgeois family couldn’t have imagined. His impulsive marriage to independent artist Loretta is a happiness he never thought he’d find. And when he’s tapped by J. Edgar Hoover to be the FBI’s first African-American agent, he sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to secure real justice.

by Joseph Boyden
ISBN: 0670034312
Year: 2005

Set in Canada and the battlefields of France and Belgium, Three-Day Road is a mesmerizing novel told through the eyes of Niska—a Canadian Oji-Cree woman living off the land who is the last of a line of healers and diviners—and her nephew Xavier.


Looking for more resources?  Then check out the UNC’s Equity in the Library list of presentations, notes on Building an Inclusive Library, Social Justice in Libraries, and a list of book lists that I was delighted to discover includes my own African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2010-2015).

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