Evanston Public Library expands virtual library

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Daily File Photo by Madison Smith

Evanston Public Library is changing its strategy to make e-books accessible by eliminating its access points and revising its online catalog.

Evanston Public Library has added thousands of books to its online download service this summer after shutting down its book hotspot devices in August. Under the revised program, patrons can read and listen to books without a library card.

EPL released the first version of its online library program at the start of the pandemic when more residents wanted to access books from home, said Jenette Sturges, communications and marketing manager.

The pop-up access points were strategically placed in four high-traffic areas of the city: the Robert Crown Community Center, the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and the Presence St. Francis Hospital. and Erie Family Health Center. In these areas, people could access books through public hotspots and download them to a device without a library card.

EPL was one of a handful of libraries across the country to open places for “virtual libraries.” However, the library has now expanded its electronic library, which includes genres of fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and classics.

“The most important thing we need to focus on as a library organization is to identify the needs and assets that already exist in our communities and hope to meet and elevate them,” Sturges said.

The EPL Virtual Library is accessible via the library’s website. It provides three external services for online documents — Hoopla and Libby for books, and Kanopy for streaming services.

Hoopla has no limit on the number of items a resident can view, despite its smaller selection, according to Elizabeth Bird, head of collections development. The EPL added additional access to virtual resources when e-book usage increased during the height of the pandemic.

“We just diverted more money to buying electronics (because) we can never catch up with demand,” Bird said. “Of all the libraries in this consortium that we belong to, which is called Digital Library of Illinois (OverDrive), we have the highest circulation.”

The original hotspot initiative was to thrive and even expand with a fifth location, but Sturges said customers weren’t using hotspots as much as EPL had hoped.

Sturges said she found dedicated readers preferred more readily available options to library services, including e-books, newspapers, magazines, TV shows and movies.

“We’re in an ongoing process of trying to decide which programs and services that we offer are really being used and which aren’t,” Sturges said. “There are different programs and services that are sometimes popular in different communities.”

Evanston resident Michael Medos said he used EPL’s online library nearly five days a week for three years.

Medos said he preferred the e-book library to physical book checking. He added that he tended to lean towards non-fiction books related to social and political science and was impressed with the library’s collection.

“I managed to find most of the titles I was looking for,” Medos said. “I find them super user-friendly. I think it’s really easy.

Medos added that he is a real estate agent and is able to listen to audiobooks from the library during his commute.

He said he was delighted to see the library continue to grow its e-book selections.

“It makes books and literature more accessible to people,” Medos said. “I’m fine with them expanding their catalog because that’s exactly what will benefit users and drive more users to the platform.”

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