My colleague sent the email first thing in the morning. “TOTALLY OPTIONAL, but if you want to participate in the RAILS collection challenge to showcase unusual items on social media, I’ll be happy to make it easy.”
Come back again? I scrolled down to find a message sent from RAILS (the Reaching Across Illinois Library System that connects a large number of libraries in our state). The message read: “RAILS is inviting libraries to participate in a new social media challenge to share unique items in their collections.” What followed was a list of categories. Each month there would be two challenges, starting in May and running until at least March 2023.
I scrolled lazily through the list. “The biggest item in your collection.” “Item in your collection that you are most proud of.” Hmmm. “Best kept secret in your collection.”
Oh. I was in.
See, one of the things I love about the Evanston Public Library is that, like most 149-year-old institutions (we’ll be 150 next year!!), we have a lot of . . . We will . . . Old things. statues. Documents. Signed books. That’s not to say other libraries in Illinois don’t have their own compelling collections, but here at EPL we’re a little unique. And what we have on hand is worth seeing.
Although I haven’t decided what exactly He does for all categories yet, here’s a brief rundown of some of the items you won’t really find anywhere else.
– Biggest item in your collection: That would be the Ghostwriter statue that hangs in our lobby. No doubt you’ve seen it before. Constructed from a multitude of smaller statues, it is by Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter who made a similar statue at Midway Airport. Look at it from the right angle (the third floor is particularly good for this) and you can make out a whole head.
– Object in your collection that best represents your community: At the top of the library, facing Orrington Avenue, are two sculptures by Richard Hunt. Their names? “Book binders.” And if Hunt’s name sounds familiar, it may be because he was recently chosen to provide a gilded sculpture named “Book Bird” for the Obama Presidential Center’s reading garden.
Hunt, a leading Chicago-area artist, was the first African-American sculptor to be honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he recently created the Ida B. Wells monument “Light of Truth” in Bronzeville, which you should really check out if you get the chance.
– Item in your collection that you are most proud of: I have on my desk a signed copy of Catch-22 that Joseph Heller signed for the Evanston Public Library. However, it was discovered completely by accident a few years ago at the Main Street branch. As he rummaged through the shelves, a librarian ripped it off and discovered the following inscription on the front: “To the Evanston Public Library. Let’s hope no one steals this copy and forces you to replace it with another. Joseph Heller 2/18/80 Chicago.”
– If you could put one library item in your time capsule, what would it be?: Oh. This is easy. No doubt it would have to be the Cozy Evanston Cookbook we created at the beginning of the pandemic. During a time when sourdough starters flourished, we solicited recipes from the community and created an e-cookbook that you can still check out to this day: https://inkie.pressbooks.pub/cozyevanstoncookbook/
Stay tuned for more fun collection categories in the future!