On January 18, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn paid a visit to Evanston to announce a $1 million State of Illinois grant to assist Northwestern University and Evanston into extending a gigabit ultra-high-speed Internet network down Chicago Avenue to at least Main Street. The press conference occurred at the newly-reopened Chicago/Main branch of the Evanston Public Library, now located where the Evanston Public Library Friends operated The Twig as a free volunteer-run space for more than a year after the closure of the old South Branch library.
The event could not have been more of a lovefest of good vibes unless attendees had stripped off clothes and started to dance nekkid a la Woodstock. City officials praised State officials; State officials praised Northwestern; Northwestern lavished love on Evanston; businesses professed their love for the People's Republic. The Governor was on his game, declaring that society had no more powerful force than citizens banding together to fight for what they believed in, and for a better future -- an apropos comment at a facility that would not even exist without such a fight. NU President Morty Schapiro, who gave up a promising and glamorous career in standup for the dreary life of college administrator, kept the crowd in stitches while riffing on everything from the Governor's purple wardrobe accessories to Chicago Mayor Emanuel. Meanwhile, a number of kids and moms doing storytime in the background provided a wholesome soundtrack.
But it was all for good cause. This is only the second such grant announced by the state and can't but help Evanston continue to position itself as an attractive place for entrepreneurs to start a business and at the same time raise a family. Rep. Robyn Gabel, City staff, the mayor and Council should all be proud of the work done to help bring this assist to the City. The Library -- represented by several trustees and staff -- should be proud of itself for making the right call in opening the facility. EPLF, whose president Marcia Mahoney beamed in the background, should feel as warm as the orange of the paint in the room where the Gov held court.
Schapiro, in crowing about the Wildcats' defeat of Illinois in basketball the night before, alluded to the '80s movie Revenge of the Nerds. While an awful movie, that title could have served as caption for the entire event. A roomful of many wonky, brainy people, convened in a library saved only by citizen devotion to books and learning, all coming together to celebrate expansion of: a data cable. In all seriousness, the event underscored what many of us said repeatedly, for years, that a modern library is not just a static collection of books, but a dynamic place that can serve as a center of public life, and enhance community.
Groundbreaking at the nearby SE corner of Chicago and Main on an office building hoped to attract high-tech startups is slated to occur in fall 2013. May we continue to build on good ideas.
Below: Strollers lined up outside underneath the new sign for the Chicago Avenue / Main Street Branch of the Evanston Pblic Library.