2020 tested Evanston and the country. The COVID-19 pandemic threatened our community’s well-being, economic stability, and sense of connection in frightening ways. Black Lives Matter protests increased the urgency of our reckoning with the roots of institutional racism in America, in Evanston, and within the Library.

We issued an apology for the ways in which we have failed to live up to the ideals of equity, diversity and inclusion. And, we publicly committed to embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion in everything we do.

Throughout the turmoil of 2020, we worked steadily to provide the community with necessary resources like WiFi Hotspots, technology assistance, computers, and vital needs like food, shelter, and mental health support.

Reopening our doors in July, the first services offered were for the many who depend on the Library for computers, WiFi and printing.

Curbside pickup delighted those who walked, biked, or drove up for books and other materials. Use of the Digital Library soared! All Library programs went virtual to bring socially-distanced Evanstonians together safely. Reopening our doors in July, the first services offered were for the many who depend on the Library for computers, WiFi and printing. Opening for a more complete range of services in August, we’ve kept public health paramount with best practice safety protocols.

Just two weeks before the pandemic shutdown, the brand new, bright and beautiful Robert Crown Branch Library opened on the west side of Evanston to offer a wide range of services with a bilingual Spanish/English speaking staff.

Black Lives Matter

The View Through an Equity Lens

The Evanston Public Library stands in solidarity with our Black community members. We stand for racial equity and social justice for all. We commit to pursuing equity in our daily work. The social forces that cause police brutality and the killings of black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor must be stopped at the source. Everyone has a responsibility to combat racism in everyday life and there is no better moment than the present.

The Library must rethink how it envisions social justice as we work to remove the influence of white supremacy in our spaces, services and programs. Equity goes beyond equality: it’s a commitment to addressing the needs of disadvantaged groups and ensuring that the benefits of resources are fairly distributed. This year we acknowledged the shortcomings of our services and affirmed our commitment to racial equity, steps that have been long overdue. Moving forward toward repair, equity will be a key consideration in our work.

Our Apology

“Too often, the Library has focused on being neutral rather than equitable. We acknowledge and regret that already-marginalized community members have felt excluded from and unwelcome in our spaces. We apologize for these actions and inactions, and we seek to continue growing in our understanding of and commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.” — Karen Danczak Lyons, Executive Director, Evanston Public Library Public apology, May 12, 2020

The Racial Equity Task Force

This group of community members, Library staff and Library trustees is devoted to increasing the Library’s outreach and service to underserved residents, particularly those living in Evanston’s 5th, 8th, and 9th wards. Through regular meetings with Library staff across departments, the perspectives of this group push us to work harder to reach residents who may not currently be making use of the Library’s abundant resources and vital services. The work can be slow and difficult. We know it’s worth it.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ― MAYA ANGELOU

Reinventing How We Do Things

No More Overdue Fines

Overdue fines cause unnecessary barriers to resources. That’s why in 2020 we eliminated them. The fine-free movement is growing nationwide, driven by the idea that everyone should be able to benefit from what libraries have to offer without having to worry about any kind of financial burden.

Trans Employee Policy

The Library took action to support the trans community in 2020, updating its policy to adopt procedures that facilitate the transition of employees and lay out new guidelines to promote workplace inclusion. We believe that human diversity leads to innovation. We value and support our employees’ lived experiences and respect their right to work openly and authentically as themselves.

The Collection Advisory Committee

This new group of Black Evanston residents, is helping us with decisions on best practices for purchasing materials for the Black community. Through this group, we are rethinking how we typically work and discovering new avenues to fight bias in library collections.

Library as a Social Service Connector and Provider

Evanston Care Network is Launched

  • New one-stop online portal creates easier access to food, shelter, housing, mental health care, childcare, and more for those in need.
  • Librarians and City 311 staff provide extra help and consultation.
  • A partnership of the Library, the City of Evanston,
  • Amita St. Francis and the Evanston Community Foundation.
  • Searchable in more than 100 languages
  • Almost 9000 searches conducted in 2020, most commonly for food, rental assistance, housing, and childcare

Evanston Latinos for COVID-19 Relief

Through a partnership with Evanston Latinos and funding from the Evanston Community Foundation, together we were able to provide space, technology, education and support for 40 Spanish speaking residents most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants received needed financial assistance and information about navigating the pandemic using available local resources. At a difficult time for Evanston Latinx residents, this program also offered a supportive space to build community.

Getting CARES Act Relief Money to the People! It can be difficult to get available resources if you don’t speak English or have the necessary technology to apply. That’s why we reached out to help Spanish speaking Evanstonians apply for up to $50,000 worth of essential aid.

A Social Worker in the Library. In a time of social isolation the empathic rapport between patrons and Library social workers is more important than ever. For those who struggle the most in our community, the comfort and connection provided by a licensed mental health worker during the pandemic was life-affirming and possibly lifesaving.

Caring Calls: At the onset of the pandemic, when in-person visits were halted, we called patrons known to rely on the Library in order to check in, assess needs and connect them to helpful resources where desired.

Equity Training Throughout the Year

Learning, evolving, rethinking.

All together we are learning about equity: what it means and how to use it to improve our services. The training gives us time to talk about systems of inequality, implicit bias, microaggressions, cultural competence and humility, whiteness and white supremacy, racial and ethnic identities and more. Our curriculum is funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services and is designed for library staff, among others.

“It has provided a platform to facilitate conversation with colleagues, and I believe this is enabling us all to raise awareness and recognition of institutionalized racism.” — Equity training participant
  • “[This training] helped encourage me throughout the year to seek out more books and resources about race in the US. “
  • “This has really enabled me to think about the impact of my words and actions and how I can use my work to help combat racism.”
  • “The training has made me more mindful of how our language, programs, services, and even the collection itself, impacts our surrounding community.”
  • “It’s hard to have meaningful conversations regarding issues of race/equity when everyone is at a different place on their journey.”

88% of staff say training has improved their understanding of racial equity. 68% of staff say they’ve used this new understanding in their work.

Evanston Public Library Closes Two Branches: Difficult Decisions and Opposing Viewpoints

With two unanimous votes of 9-0 the Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees approved the permanent closure of the Chicago Ave./Main St. (CAMS) Branch and the North Branch. Future Library locations and reallocation of services are being explored based on need across the city. This impactful decision, driven by equity efforts, diminished budget and public safety measures, was a difficult one for all.

The Community Responds . . .

  • “I encourage the EPL Board to close both North Branch and CAMS branches and use those resources to bring services to the 5th, 8th, and 9th Wards.”
  • “I am writing to express how important it is to me and my family that the North Branch library remains open ...We live in walking distance to the library and visit often.”
  • “I firmly believe that the north and south branches of the library should be closed. My primary reason is that EPL simply doesn’t have the budget to effectively run branches. EPL receives less than half of the per capita tax support that our peer communities provide to their libraries such as Skokie, Arlington Heights, Wilmette, and others, none of which run branches.
  • “North Branch and Chicago Ave./Main St Branch (CAMS) provide me the opportunity to walk to these branches while possibly visiting local businesses along the way. Additionally, Park School has been bringing students to CAMS...Please reconsider closing these branches for good. Their presence in the community is one of the main reasons we are proud to call Evanston home.”
  • “I agree with the argument that resources need to be directed to underserved communities. But we should grow the library services in Evanston, not close down locations to open new ones...”

Robert Crown Branch Library Opened February 29, 2020

Welcome! The new Robert Crown Branch Library is a community gathering space located in the new Robert Crown Community Center.

This Library is located in a neighborhood that has never before had a Library branch in walking distance. We are welcoming new families, including those who come to the community center to use the gym, bring children for childcare, or after school activities. Our staff, programming, and collections are bilingual: English/Spanish.


  • Diverse staff
  • Computer bar with 10 desktop computers
  • Tranquil outdoor reading garden
  • Three study rooms and one community meeting room
  • Laptop vending machine
  • Floor to ceiling windows
It nearly brings tears to my eyes thinking about how wonderfully the library and the city is so well represented by such caring people!” ― Tom K.

Opening Safely in a Pandemic

The Library took a number of steps to rework operations for providing service during the pandemic. We have a commitment to keep the public safe. Thanks to the cooperation of our staff and you, our visitors, we were able to fulfill that commitment.

  • All scheduled programming went online
  • Processed thousands of curbside pickups
  • Interior layout altered for social distancing
  • Implemented use of face masks, temperature checks, and plastic shields
  • Staff divided into teams to depopulate building
  • Reduced capacity tracked in real time through the Safespace system
  • Cordless electrostatic sprayers used to clean indoor surfaces regularly
  • Contact-free self-checkout encouraged for patrons
  • Returned books quarantined before handling by staff
“As a regular patron of the library, I just want to say thank you for the services you are providing. My wife and I — and I assume the rest of Evanston — really appreciate the efforts you are making at this crazy time.” —Michael B.

We Reworked All Our Programming for the Virtual Medium. You Showed Up!

914 virtual programs for all ages. 1289 total programs for all ages. Virtual Attendance: 13,200. Total attendance: 21,220. YouTube Channel Views: 61,333.

Virtual Learning Helped Reduce Isolation

Residents “zoomed” through the Mission Impossible program to discuss the works of James Baldwin and Virginia Woolf.

Latinx families enjoyed Noche de Familia Serenata with Cielito Lindo and Spanish bingo.

A new series with Northwestern Emeritus Organization (NEO) educated participants on Economics, Comparative Literature, African American Studies, and Theatre.

Midwest Address Author Series in partnership with Bookends and Beginnings brought luminaries like Eddie Glaude of Princeton and acclaimed authors like Michael Zapata to speak about their work.

The Readability Book Group for people with cognitive disabilities increased meetings to three times a week from once a week.

Memory Cafes offered enrichment for people on the memory loss spectrum and their care partners.

A Falcon Banding with scientists from The Field Museum was held live on ZOOM for the first time ever. This time everyone had a front row seat and hundreds more attended! 2020 marked the 17th consecutive year with a peregrine falcon nesting site at the Library.

Childhood and Youth Literacy Programs: Revisioned

Young people, separated from their friends, closed off to the world, and adjusting to virtual education were in a uniquely tough spot. We worked to meet the needs of young people—and their parents— through virtual programs.

  • More than 60 new Early Literacy programs created for on demand viewing
  • Summer Reading Program attracted almost 1000 active readers
  • New Spanish storytimes added to the lineup
  • Our extensive anti-racism book list helped inspire social justice awareness in families
  • An innovative Parents Read Aloud program for parents/guardians to enjoy after putting kids to bed
  • Independent classes for kids, such as microwave cooking and book club
  • Grab-and-go craft kits for special occasions and holidays
  • Kids newsletter packed with great activities to do at home
  • Increased support for D65 teachers and students
“When everything shut down in March and students and families no longer had access to physical library books, the Evanston Public Library was indispensable. They quickly pivoted to provide access to all their databases, ebooks, eaudiobooks, and other resources through temporary library cards, school database IDs, and the addition of new ebook/eaudiobook sources. They worked closely with the Evanston/Skokie D65 Library Department to ensure that all of our students would be able to continue reading and accessing necessary school resources. Thank you Evanston Public Library for keeping our students and families needs at the forefront of your work. Your hard work is noticed and appreciated.” — Kefira Philippe, Nichols Middle School Librarian

Innovative Teen Engagement

Teens need to find their crowd, explore, and grow as individuals. With schools and summer camps closed, many weren’t even able to see their friends. Thanks to our intrepid teen staff, we were able to engage with the youth of our community in new, exciting and virtual ways.

  • Loft staff hosted virtual game nights, movie screenings, music groups, and regular social hours.
  • Funded by the Illinois State Library’s Project Next Generation Grant, the Cardboard Carnival helped youth, especially those underrepresented in STEM fields, to learn about the engineering design process, strengthen their interest in STEM, and build valuable problem-solving skills—plus, have a blast while they’re at it.
  • The 8-Bit Challenge introduced kids to fundamental coding concepts and taught them how to create an original arcade game, a 3-D cardboard marble adventure course complete with tracks, funnels, loops, and even a programmable motorized element.
  • Teen Cycling Program taught 40 female-identifying BIPOC youth to enjoy cycling, gain confidence in riding, and fix their own bikes. 15 bikes, 40 helmets and locks given to teens in the program. We couldn’t do it without Outride, Pony Shop Bicycles and the Recyclery.

The Kids are Alright!

“No matter what if I win or lose then I would have still learned something and there is always a way to solve to even the biggest problems.” ― Elijah
“I have learned about ingenuity, as well as the power of asking for help and advocating for myself. — Natalie

The Check Out Podcast Launched January 2020

Focused solely on interesting people who live or work in Evanston, The Check Out Podcast hosted 15 guests in 2020 including trailblazers like Dino Robinson of the Shorefront Legacy Center, 5th Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons who received nationwide coverage for her leadership on reparations, and Rebeca Mendoza, founder of Evanston Latinos, a D65 School Board member and the first Latina to hold the position.

From left to right: Robin Rue Simmons, Dino Robinson and Rebeca Mendoza
I’ve already gotten many positive responses from the Latino community expressing their gratitude for sharing OUR story. Thank you for seeing us and for listening. — Rebeca Mendoza

Bridges to Digital Literacy

The internet is such an important part of our lives that those without access to it are often overlooked and underserved. That “digital divide” is a critical issue in Evanston too. Our goal is to build bridges over it by making access to technology more accessible.

NEW Job Search Tech Kits help those who are unemployed or underemployed. They offer essential technology needed to get a job search underway in an increasingly complex job market. More information is available at epl.org/jobseekers.

Job Search Tech Kits Work It! They include:

  • A Chromebook
  • A Wi-Fi hotspot for free internet service
  • An abundance of information about career resources curated by library staff

150 Wifi Hotspots helped us support individuals and community groups during the shut down. Connections used them to support vital work with those experiencing homelessness. Members of the Foster Senior Group were able to keep their own connections strong, reducing isolation.

Check out a laptop or Chromebook from the Laptop Vending Machine at Robert Crown Branch Library!
“Kudos to you for obtaining a CARES Act Grant to lend laptop kits. Makes an ETHS alum proud.” — Mark F.

One-on-one tech support sessions: 300 appointments. Technology Classes: 155.

Go Digital!

All That Quarantine Cooking.

The desire to cook and bake as a way to connect and nurture during the pandemic has been channeled into a brand new publication -- The Cozy Evanston Cookbook for Uncertain Times: Mastering the Art of Quarantine Cooking. The ebook, put together by the Library and authored by the People of Evanston, is available at epl.org, free to all.

The Digital Library: Suddenly So Popular!

Use of Ebooks and Eaudiobooks, streaming movies and TV, and eMagazines -- soared during the pandemic. 243,630 digital items circulated in 2020, up 55% from 2019! We also saw a 40% increase in materials checkouts over all formats between March and December.

Patrons got 24/7 help with our online resources through a series of how-to videos -- in addition to one-on-one help available from Library staff via phone, email or Chat.

243,630 digital items circulated in 2020, up 55% from 2019!

Just a Few of the Digital Offerings from Evanston Public Lbrary

Information You Can Trust

Our many newsletters, including our new Spanish newsletter, became go-to reading this year for reliable information about:

  • COVID-19 health and safety protocols
  • Latest CDC information
  • Charitable giving and mutual aid opportunities
  • Community volunteerism
  • Anti-racism books, media, and activism
  • Activities that reduce isolation for all ages
  • Blood drives and antibody testing
  • CARES Act and other forms of relief
  • Food, free legal information, rent relief, housing assistance
  • And more...
“The EPL kids newsletter is an incredible trove of information. I frequently bookmark it, go back to it, and share several of the links with my kids... As we enter our 11th (!) month of our isolation at home, having these ideas and opportunities to engage with my kids has been a welcome and wonderful addition to our ever dwindling list of activities...We know there is a wonderful team working hard to reach out and to share great learning resources with us. For this, I am SO appreciative! — Alison F.

2020 Operating Fund*

2020 Revenue

Local Tax $7,268,891.26

Other Revenue Sources $1,032,971.95

Total Revenue $8,301,863.21


2020 Expense

Personnel Costs $5,454,399.16

Services, Materials, Equipment $948,217.22

Library Collection $800,000.00

Shared City Services $274,050.00

Total Expense $7,476,666.38


A Look at Non-Tax Revenue

Other Revenue Sources

Restricted Grants $309,925.01

Contributions $376,745.62

Fines/User Charges $87,369.82

Endowment, Interest and Other Income $258,931.10

Total Other Revenue Sources $1,032,971.95


2016 - 2020 Late Fees Decline

* Preliminary financial overview pending annual comprehensive audit

Thank You For Your Support!

The Evanston Public Library continues to receive significantly less tax funding than our neighboring libraries, but through creative partnerships and philanthropic support we continue to expand our budget. Your support is essential to our success. Together we are breaking down barriers and increasing access to the wealth of resources available in Evanston.

During the pandemic we quickly modified programs and services, while we continued to decrease barriers by helping to provide internet access and eliminating overdue fines. During this difficult time, you joined us, demonstrating that you value our commitment to serve all of Evanston. Thank you to our staff, patrons, donors, volunteers, and partners.

We need your help to continue our journey to serve all of Evanston. Please join us:





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We all have a special part to play here at the Library. Staff, patrons, and Friends, all support the Library. To learn how you can join us, contact Wynn Shawver, Chief Development Officer at 847-448-8657.


Annual Report Design: Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc. | Library Photos: Lynn Trautmann; Barbara Freeman