This timeline below has the most recent news at the bottom. Scroll down to see how the library’s journey has evolved under its current leadership.

Milestones in our equity and anti-racism journey

Ask "What kind of community do you want?" October 2013

Blue wall asking What kind of community do you wantExecutive Director David Seleb was introduced to the Harwood practice in October 2013. Using this approach and “turning outward” over the next year, he would speak with and learn from many members of the Oak Park community, in a series of Community Conversations with participants from different age groups, races, sexes, and educational and socioeconomic levels. Using a specific set of questions, designed to get people talking about what they want for their community, always began with, “What kind of community do you want?” Read more »

Hear what Oak Park told its library November 2014

Across Oak Park’s first round of library-led Community Conversations, common themes emerged:

  • Diversity, Inclusion, Participation, and Equity
  • Economy
  • Education and Learning
  • Health, Safety, Livability

Read more about these common themes »

Train more staff, dig deeper into shared themes April 2015

The library’s associate director and two librarians attend Harwood practitioner training, discovering how aspirations and public knowledge can help reframe discussions, enlist allies, develop strategies, and align actions. Staff dig more deeply into shared themes from first impressions, gathering with area groups to learn more about diversity, inclusion, participation, and equity and education and learning in Oak Park. To date, more than 20 staff members and two library trustees have been trained to turn outward as Harwood practitioners.

Hire a social worker March 2016

olmes Elementary teacher Drew Finkbeiner and Oak Park Public Library's Rob Simmons shaking hands.

Joining a handful of public libraries with similar social services-based positions, the library develops a new role to provide services for the most vulnerable patrons experiencing challenges such as homelessness and access to mental health support.

Create a new home and continue to curate a multicultural collection November 2016

Multicultural Collection Collage

The Dole Branch Library opens its doors as the new home to Oak Park’s Multicultural Collection. Oak Park Elementary School District 97 transferred ownership to the library of the collection (thousands of unique artifacts, books, and films) nearly 30 years in the making had outgrown available school space. Today, the library is able to provide wider public access and a professional commitment to ongoing curation that supports hands-on learning in preschools and grade school classrooms.

Eliminate fines to increase use, access, equity June 2017

Child dancing, child readingThe Board of Library Trustees approves new policies to go fine free and remove meeting room fees for non-profit organizations. These fines and fees “are a regressive method of raising revenue. They hurt the most those who can afford them the least. They keep people away from the library, create shame and stress-filled interactions, and require significant amounts of staff time to manage.” Read more »

Grow a Community Resources Team June 2017

Stephen Jackson talks with patronsManager Rob Simmons grows a Community Resources team to include full-time Community Resources Specialist Stephen Jackson and four part-time Safety and Security Monitors. Together, the team offers a referral-based outreach program to benefit vulnerable library patrons;  supports youth development; and ensures in-house safety and security monitoring of the library. Rethinking how the library engages with all its patrons prioritizes respect and dignity. Read more »

Offer new opportunities to connect 2017-ongoing

Leading Edge Barbershop

We collaborate with community partners on restorative justice, multicultural programming, and opportunities for teens in social justice, leadership, and college and career readiness.

Host a restorative justice conference October 2018

Speakers at Restorative Justice ConferenceOver two days, restorative justice practitioners from organizations including Heartland Alliance, Catherine Cook School, and A.L.M.A. (Arts Language Music Alliance) led workshops and spoke on panels at the Main Library, sharing strategies they’re using. “This model relies on proven techniques of forgiveness and empowerment, which are far more successful than our current system of punishment,” wrote participant Susan Lucci in a blog post after the conference. To date, the library has hosted a restorative justice conference each fall.

Gather with allies 2019–2020

Begin bimonthly meetings with leaders at community organizations—including Oak Park Elementary School District 97, Oak Park and River Forest High School, River Forest Public Library, and River Forest School District 90 — also focused on making institutional changes in equity and anti-racism.

Conduct an internal equity audit February 2020

RGW Consulting website screenshotReesheda Graham Washington & RGW Consulting is hired. She begins by listening, inviting staff from historically and intentionally marginalized people groups to share their experiences working at the library.

Use circles to honor, learn from one other March 2020

Tatiana talking about circlesLed by library staff who are certified facilitators, we come together to explore a subject by asking a series of questions and providing all with an equal opportunity to share, listen to one another, and reflect on the importance to their own lives. Circles as we practice them are rooted in the traditional practices of Indigenous cultures in North America. Learn more in this video »

Help develop empathy and compassion April 2020

Artifact held by Ms. JuantaDuring a global pandemic, create a multicultural virtual learning video series to showcase holidays and heritages. Collaborate with community members to bring “windows and mirrors”—helping develop empathy and compassion—into the homes, daycares, and virtual classrooms of our youngest patrons.

Understand where we really are April 2020

RGW Consulting Oak Park Public Library Recommended Anti-Racism Trajectory reportWe review how racism exists in both patron and staff interactions, and consider recommended action steps.

Create a safe space June 2020

Fist bumpA Black staff affinity group forms, where members can feel comfortable and set their own objectives.

Assemble a cross-section of stakeholders July 2020

Anti-Racism Advisory Team membersAn Anti-Racism Advisory Team forms, with local administrators, staff, patrons, board representation, and young adults to help shape direction and to develop an anti-racism strategic plan.

Be vulnerable & authentic August 2020

Library leadership team on virtual meetingLibrary directors (and later managers) engage in workshops on posturing, shared language, and conditions for anti-racism work.

Ask "How can I empower others?" November 2020

Manager of Public Safety Aaron Alonzo

Aaron Alonzo becomes the library’s Manager of Public Safety, in continued support of a Social Services and Public Safety model.

Offer learning to all staff members December 2020

Anti-racism aspirations word cloud90+ library staff members take part in learning around posturing, shared language, and conditions for anti-racism work.

Create a strategic plan with staff input January 2021

Different dimensions of racismLibrary staff members share feedback on the Advisory Team’s draft strategic plan. A second all-staff training includes peace circles for sharing and building community around the objectives and action included in the plan.

Curate an Anti-Racism Resource Challenge February 2021

Using specially selected books, media, articles, and websites divided into unique themes, staff create a year-long self-guided learning experience for adult and teen patrons. Both the challenge itself and the materials featured in it were curated with intention, passion, and library-wide representation by the library’s Anti-Racism Resources Guide Team. Patrons register in Beanstack, then track progress online, choosing which resources to read, listen to, watch, or do in each theme.

Approve an anti-racism strategic plan March 23, 2021

Library board members

The Board of Library Trustees votes unanimously to approve the library’s first anti-racism strategic plan, dedicating resources and defining accountability.

Center historically and intentionally marginalized people June 2021

Collage of facesAs part of the anti-racism strategic plan is a new approach to public communications, one that prioritizes relationship building and centering historically and intentionally marginalized people. Watch a video version of the plan »

Hire a Director of Equity & Anti-Racism September 2021

Stephen Jackson, Director of Equity and Anti-RacismStephen A. Jackson accepts the new full-time position of Director of Equity and Anti-Racism. His first day in this new role is Monday, October 11. Read more about the new director »

Approve new policies October 2021

On October 26, the Board of Library Trustees approves revised policies, including:

Amplify voices, celebrate differences November 2021

November 2021 Idea BoxThe Main Library Idea Box is reinvented once again to focus on multicultural holiday and celebration displays. This Day of the Dead ofrenda was designed and built by fellow librarian, talented artist, and Oak Park resident Raleigh Ocampo in remembrance of the lives of those we have lost to COVID-19. “As the library continues to partner with members of the community who represent different identities, we also aim to create spaces where voices are amplified and differences are celebrated. As we learn from these differences, our community can only thrive.” Watch more about this display »

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