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The Evanston Public Library Director Answers Your Questions

We asked readers to submit their questions for Evanston Public Library director Karen Danczak Lyons, and we've got answers to your questions and more in our Q&A.

With plans to bring the Mighty Twig back under the wing of the Evanston Public Library and a transition to separate from city governance, there’s a lot going on at the library. Patch sat down with director Karen Danczak Lyons, who came onboard with the Evanston Public Library last April. Previously, she served as budget director for the city of Chicago in the early 1990s, and then worked at the Chicago Public Library from 1993 until she took the position in Evanston. We asked our own questions as well as questions submitted by readers in advance.

Why did you decide to take the job with the Evanston Public Library?

It’s always fun to build and create something. We’re transitioning right now so that we will no longer be a city department. We will still serve the city and we’ll still work with the city, but we will be governed by our board. So we will be a municipal library, a publicly funded municipal library that is independent from the city.

How will the library’s new status affect taxpayers?

We have always been funded through the property tax, but it’s been part of the general levy, whereas now you’ll be able to see a separate line for the Evanston Public Library on your tax bill. And I hope that will assist in future conversations about the value you receive in terms of service and how we can do more with more support. 

Could the library board now go out for a referendum?

Not yet, no. We will levy through the city … and then that will be part of the city’s presentation as part of the overall budget, but it will be a separate levy, and that will still be approved by city council. Because we’re not becoming a library district, we’re not going out separately for referenda. 

Can you explain where the library currently stands in relationship to the Mighty Twig?

I thought it would be a mistake at this point to allow that library space to close because of lack of funding. We laid out the budget, $145,000 to operate it for the year [starting in January 2013]. And we have two critical milestones we have to reach before the end of this year. We have to raise half of the money, because I don’t want to open and month to month worry about how I’m going to pay the staff or pay the rent, and we have to renegotiate the lease. The lease right now is with the Evanston Public Library Friends.

I’m confident we’re going to do that and we would mobilize into the space, and come January we would open there, with Evanston Public Library staff, with the collection, with the ability to place and pick up holds, with reference services, storytelling, and the kind of services we provide at the north branch and that we provide here [at the main library]. 

After that, what’s the plan?

We have to look at how it operates as an Evanston Public Library space and see what our experience is, see if we feel the space is adequate and see if there are other alternatives depending on what’s happening in other parts of Evanston. It’s part of a larger discussion. 

I’ve also heard talk of a library in West Evanston. How serious is that at this point?

We’ve heard from the Evanston 150 group, The More You Know, that one of their goals is to encourage the creation of a library space in west Evanston. For the past few years we’ve had a summer reading staff at the Dempster-Dodge shopping center, so that’s one location that I’ve heard again and again. I’ve gone to the fifth ward meeting and to the second ward meeting and distributed surveys to the residents because we need to understand the type of library service the community feels is needed. And once we determine the scope of services, then we look for space. 

Here’s my first question from a reader. ‘Procrustes’ Foil’ is looking for a library book group that is “more inclusive of all Evanstonians," and offered to lead it. Have you considered new book groups?

We continue to look at ways to meet the community’s needs and we’re very interested in hearing what people want. Have him or her e-mail me!

When something like Dajae Coleman’s death happens, what role does the library have, if any? Reader Dan Cox asked if the library had considered offering gun safety programs. Is that something you’ve talked about at all?

We’ve not talked about gun safety programs. What we did immediately was, I reached out to our head of teen libraries, and she very quickly pulled together a bibliography of books, materials to help with grieving and loss. 

Public libraries create a safe learning space for everyone and certainly teens and welcoming teens and providing programs and materials of interest is a big part of what we can do to assist with that. We do have some after hours programs, not just for teens but also for adults, and so I’m asking our staff to think about other after-hours teen-centric programming.

Patch reader Fred asked, ‘Has the library considered a user fee for the library card?’

I’m smiling because with my old budget hat on, I’m always looking for new sources of revenue. But I really feel that the citizens of Evanston, because they’ve paid their property taxes, have already paid once.

Genie Kastrup asks, ‘What plans does the library have to expand it's reading materials for Kindle users?’

We have thousands of titles you can download right now through My Media Mall. And we also have audiobooks and we’re looking at movies and music as well.

Jennifer Lau Bond asked, “What technologies does EPL think would benefit our community, and what plans do they have to get it?"

We are waiting to hear the results of a planning grant that we submitted in partnership with Northwestern University and Y.O.U. to create a digital learning lab for teens in the main library, so we should hear about that soon. We’re very committed to creating the space, not only to have the technology there, but to have science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, and mentors and teachers come and talk about that.. … We’re very excited about the possibility, and very committed to doing this, even if we don’t get the planning grant, which is a couple hundred thousand dollars. 

We’re also working on the materials to create a tech bar where we would have different types of devices including Kindles and iPads on a bar at a location, and then staff would be able to introduce patrons to the different aspects, teach them some of the features and then also have materials that they could take away with them, should they buy one or want to use one. … That’s something that we’re actively working on and hope to roll out later this year. 

We’re also looking at other applications that will make it easier to interact with the library and search our collections—apps for smartphones.

Let me switch gears to a few personal questions. Are you reading anything right now?

I just picked up a copy of The Rook, which is a new mystery that’s supposedly really good. It’s a new author, not one that I was familiar with. 

Do you tend to read mysteries or do you stray all over the place?

I read everything including the milk carton and the cereal boxes. I’ve always been a big reader. I find myself doing more reading recently on innovation and creation and helping children learn to be innovative, because I think that’s part of the role that we can play. Evanston is an international city, and I have met some amazing children here. I could easily see that we have the next Bill Gates or the next president among our children. 

Do you have a favorite book?

I love The Giver, by Lois Lowry.

To wrap up, what do you wish people knew about the library?

The whole notion of being able to download for free ebooks to your devices is something we’ve got to do a better job of marketing. We have such a wide range of programs, it’s worth the time to check out our calendar of events, and there are easy ways to sort it so you can get what you want.

The other thing I would encourage readers to do is check out the return on investment calculator on our website. If you think about how many books you buy in a month, or how many theater programs you go to in a month, play around with that calculator, and plug in what you do for your recreational interests, and see how much we’re saving you if you come to our programs and use our materials. I think it would be surprising to people.

HEY, READERS! Who would you like Patch to interview next? Suggest someone in the comments or via e-mail to evanston@patch.com.

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