Library users appreciate library services, but survey shows concerns over loss of branches and parking

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The Evanston Public Library received high marks in a community survey conducted earlier this year that was designed to gauge how well the system was meeting needs.

But some concerns were raised about parking and the loss of neighborhood branches, drawing the attention of some library administrators at their July 20 meeting.

A consulting group, Library Strategies, conducted the survey on behalf of the library.

Evanston Public Library hired the group as part of the library’s strategic planning process.

The group’s “EPL Community Survey Report” reported the results of an online community survey conducted in May and June 2022, Heather Norborg, the library’s acting executive director, said in a memo introducing the report.

A total of 1,435 residents participated in the questionnaire designed to capture satisfaction and perceptions of the library and also identify unmet and under-met needs.

The library strategies report that was submitted to the library board included a number of takeaway comments from the survey, with some of the concerns expressed in more than one question, the consultants said.

Some of the group’s findings include:

— Overall, “there is a high level of satisfaction with the Library and the services it offers,” note the authors of the survey.

— “The staff of the Evanston Public Library is highly valued by users of all persuasions. They do a great job, especially the children’s librarians.

— “Users have seen and have been grateful for the steps Evanston Public Library has taken towards a more equitable and inclusive library community and hope that they will continue their good work and ongoing outreach. More community engagement, awareness and focus on access and inclusion is desired. Equity and diversity are more important issues for members of the black community and people of color, as well as those with less than a college degree, but are widely supported by all responses.

There were also concerns among the positive comments, the consultant reported.

— “Parking reaches a level of great concern for many of the respondents, almost a quarter. Part of this concern was related to having to pay for parking at a free public institution, particularly the Main Library (at 1803 Orrington Ave.) Part of the concern is a reaction to the lack of parking at Robert Crown (at Main Street and Dodge Avenue).

— Some other respondents “appreciate the addition of the Robert Crown branch,” the survey authors noted, “but still express dissatisfaction with the way the branch arrangement has gone. Users who previously had a nearby branch (Wards 6 and 7) often report using the library in other communities, such as Wilmette or Skokie now. There is a general desire among respondents to have library services close by and integrated into local neighborhoods, and these desires take different forms, such as more branch libraries, a return to a bookmobile, more off-site activities site and community outreach and partnership.

During the discussion at the July 20 meeting, Rachel Hayman, Administrator of the Library Board, said: “I was a little surprised to see one of the comments that there is a lack of parking at Robert Crown. I mean, it’s a problem at the main library, but is it a problem at Robert Crown? »

The library space is contained within a wing of the Robert Crown Community Center, a $54 million complex that opened to the public in March 2020.

Jill Skwerski, Head of Engagement Services for the library, confirmed that parking difficulties at Robert Crown can sometimes be the case.

“On any given day, there is no shortage of parking spaces, there is an abundance of free parking spaces,” she told administrators. “However, on days when there are football or hockey tournaments or the Produce Mobile (where volunteers distribute produce to those in need), parking can be a challenge.”

“These are very few days,” she pointed out.

The survey also included take-home comments about unmet or under-met needs:

— “Books and other traditional library services remain a priority for the majority of respondents. The increased demand for online and streaming services is projected by many into the future.

— “There is an interest in the library having new and emerging technologies. Compared to overall responses, access to up-to-date technology is stronger among black respondents, other communities of color, and respondents with a college education or less.

— “The programs are appreciated by library users. A greater variety of programs and events for all ages, particularly reflecting the cultural, racial and ethnic diversity of Evanston, is desired. Many would like to see more children’s programming at a time that suits working adults and adult programming aimed at younger audiences.

— “Many respondents would like the website and catalog to be easier to use and more intuitive.

— “More active promotion and marketing, both in the library and through media such as electronic messages tailored to special interests, was repeatedly suggested. The newsletter is perhaps the most useful form of promotion done by the library.

— “The people of Evanston know they have access to many resources and perspectives for a community of their size, and would like to have more interaction with Northwestern and various arts/cultural organizations and other community partners through from the library.

— “Users are missing the ability to sit and read. The lack of space generated by the additional spaces for teenagers and children and the removal of spaces due to Covid have definitely affected the way many use the library.

— “Respondents are always looking forward to the new creative idea that will come out of the library. They are aware of the evolution of library usage and are interested to see what is next.

To advance

At the June 2022 board meeting, with library executive director Karen Danczak Lyons announcing her retirement, trustees decided to put the strategic planning process on hold until a new executive director is in place.

As the board moves forward, prioritizing the needs highlighted in the survey will be one of the library’s big challenges, suggested board chair Tracy Fulce.

“We don’t have the resources of some of our sister libraries,” she noted. “We can’t do everything. So, how to identify, prioritize? »

She suggested that some sort of abbreviated strategic plan to help guide staff efforts could be one strategy, “to get everyone moving in the same direction”.

She also noted that the library has made progress in a number of areas covered by the survey, freeing up the next chief executive to create everything from scratch.

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