This timeline below has the most recent news at the bottom. Scroll down to see how the library’s journey has evolved over the last decade.
Across Oak Park’s first round of library-led Community Conversations, common themes emerged:
- Diversity, Inclusion, Participation, and Equity
- Education and Learning
- Health, Safety, Livability
The library’s associate director and two librarians attended Harwood practitioner training, discovering how aspirations and public knowledge can help reframe discussions, enlist allies, develop strategies, and align actions. Staff dug more deeply into shared themes from first impressions, gathering with area groups to learn more about diversity, inclusion, participation, equity, education, and learning in Oak Park.
Joining a handful of public libraries with similar social services-based positions, the library developed a new role to provide services for the most vulnerable patrons experiencing challenges such as homelessness and access to mental health support. Rob Simmons joined the library as Manager for Community Resources (later becoming Director of Social Services and Public Safety).
The Dole Branch Library became the new home to Oak Park’s Multicultural Collection. Oak Park Elementary School District 97 transferred ownership of the collection, which was nearly 30 years in the making, to the library because its thousands of unique artifacts, books, and films had outgrown available school space. As the new steward, the library was able to provide wider public access to the collection and a professional commitment to ongoing curation that supported hands-on learning in preschools and grade-school classrooms.
As part of rethinking how the library engages with all its patrons, Manager Rob Simmons put together a Community Resources team with full-time Community Resources Specialist Stephen Jackson and four part-time Safety and Security Monitors. Later renamed the Social Services and Safety Team, the team prioritized respect and dignity, using referral-based outreach to benefit vulnerable library patrons, support youth development, and ensure in-house safety and security monitoring of the library. Read more »
The Board of Library Trustees approved new policies to go fine free and remove meeting room fees for nonprofit organizations. Why? Fines and fees “are a regressive method of raising revenue,” said Executive Director David J. Seleb. “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 »
By September 2018, the Social Services and Safety team had served more than 350 vulnerable patrons. Most were Oak Park residents experiencing mental illness, homelessness, and extreme poverty. Through relationships with approximately 45 Chicagoland organizations, plus extensive experience working in Oak Park, the team (later renamed the Social Services and Public Safety Team) connects people with services for “the entire life spectrum, from babies to seniors.” Read more »
Over 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 and creating community. Read more »
Library leaders started meeting bimonthly with leaders from other community organizations that are also focused on making institutional changes in equity and anti-racism—including Oak Park Elementary School District 97, Oak Park and River Forest High School, River Forest Public Library, and River Forest School District 90.
The library hired Reesheda Graham Washington & RGW Consulting to conduct an internal equity audit. She began by listening, inviting staff from historically and intentionally marginalized people groups to share their experiences working at the library.
Library staff who are certified circle facilitators increasingly began using circles with staff and community members. Circles as we practice them are rooted in the traditional practices of Indigenous cultures in North America, and are a way to 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. Learn more in this video »
During a global pandemic, staff created a multicultural virtual learning video series to showcase holidays and heritages. We collaborated with community members to bring “windows and mirrors” into the homes, daycares, and virtual classrooms of our youngest patrons, helping develop empathy and compassion.
With the internal audit report from RGW Consulting, we reviewed how racism exists in both patron and staff interactions, and considered recommended action steps.
The library launched a Black Staff Affinity group where members can feel comfortable and set their own objectives.
An Anti-Racism Advisory Team was formed with local administrators, staff, patrons, board representation, and young adults to help shape direction and to develop an anti-racism strategic plan.
Library directors (and later managers) engaged in workshops on posturing, shared language, and conditions for anti-racism work.
Aaron Alonzo became the library’s Manager of Public Safety, in continued support of a Social Services and Public Safety model.
More than 90 library staff members took part in learning around posturing, shared language, and conditions for anti-racism work.
Library staff members shared feedback on the Anti-Racism Advisory Team’s draft strategic plan. A second all-staff training included peace circles for sharing and building community around the objectives and action included in the plan.
Staff created a year-long self-guided learning experience for adult and teen patrons, using specially selected books, media, articles, and websites divided into unique themes. 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.
In a unanimous vote, the Board of Library Trustees approved the library’s first anti-racism strategic plan, dedicating resources and defining accountability.
With the anti-racism strategic plan came 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 »
Stephen A. Jackson was hired as the new full-time Director of Equity and Anti-Racism. Read more about the new director »
On October 26, the Board of Library Trustees approved revised policies, including:
The Main Library Idea Box became a dedicated space for multicultural holiday and celebration displays. The intention was to amplify voices and celebrate differences, especially by partnering with members of the community who represent different identities. See a Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) ofrenda in remembrance of those who died from COVID-19 »
After a pandemic hiatus, we welcomed local artist exhibits back to the library. A new library committee composed of a diverse group of library staff was formed to review and select exhibit proposals. This new process follows a more conscious effort to align with community-wide aspirations of diversity, equity, inclusion, literacy, and education.
On June 19, all library locations were closed for the Juneteenth holiday. Library staff and board members marched in Oak Park’s first Juneteenth parade!
To bring more visibility to our policy “A Library for Everyone: Striving to Support Positive Experiences,” we added large “A Library for Everyone” signage in the Main Library Lobby and parking garage, and on screens at Dole and Maze branches. We made new T-shirts for staff and library board members, and created and posted the full policy text on all floors.
Staff established two new affinity groups—one for Latine staff members and another for LGBTQ+ staff members.
Nora Sanchez became the library’s first Latinx Language and Culture Librarian, and later updated her title to Latine Language and Culture Librarian based on community learning. She began successful community collaborations, including the first-ever Hispanic Heritage Month festival Convivencia, the library’s Dia de Muertos ofrenda displays and Day of the Dead Performance by the Omeyocan Dance Company, and new programs such as Noche de Loteria and Latinx Author Book Cafe. Read more »
Joslyn Bowling Dixon became the library’s first Black executive director, bringing a prolific catalog of knowledge and experience gleaned from more than 20 years of urban and suburban public library experience to her new role in Oak Park. Dixon’s hiring also increased the number of BIPOC staff in director-level positions to three, up from only one in 2017. Read more »
To successfully deliver programs like the 1619 Series Anti-Racist Discussion Circle and D-Composed Concert in November 2022, we built teams with more BIPOC staff members in program planning roles, and these teams created and delivered authentic experiences that prioritized people of color.
By the end of the year, 25 percent of all library staff had participated in ongoing restorative practices trainings. Having staff members equipped with this tool enables staff to equitably serve the community through creating spaces where people can show up authentically as themselves.
Our Middle & High School Services Team launches three new ways for youth in grades 6-12 to build relationships, learn with their peers and mentors, and grow in their schoolwork, job readiness, health, relationships, and overall confidence and self-awareness. The three mentorship programs were created with community organizations Your Passion 1st, A Greater Good Foundation, and the Oak Park Township. Read more »
In honor of Black History Month, the second annual Idea Box Black History Museum honored Black Oak Park history and the leaders who defied racial barriers to lay the foundation of this diverse, progressive village. Read more »
In April, the library dedicated a full-time staff position to environmental and sustainability programming and learning. Environmental Programming Specialist Christine Poreba works with community partners to bring environmental and sustainability programs to the library, including workshops about home energy improvements, electric vehicles, and solar power. In August, more than 80 participants joined a community discussion at the Main Library on the Village’s climate plan, Climate Ready Oak Park.
Staff started a new affinity group for those who are disabled, neurodivergent, or chronically ill. As with our existing Black, LGBTQ+, and Latine affinity groups, library staff voluntarily come together, chat, and share space with one another.
Director of Public Services and Social Safety Rob Simmons was recognized for his commitment and contributions as a member of Oak Park’s Alternative Call Response Task Force, which brings together a wide range of experts, community members, and specialists focused on helping individuals suffering from a mental health crisis. In June, the task force presented its findings to Oak Park’s Village Board. As one step among many, they recommended embedding crisis and social workers within the police department, so that these trained staff would be first responders, rather than police officers, when someone calls 911 for a mental health crisis. Learn more »
At its June 20 regular meeting, the Village of Oak Park Board of Trustees approved a new resolution declaring the Village of Oak Park a Book Sanctuary Community. This resolution upholds the library’s and community’s values of supporting democracy, intellectual freedom, and reading diverse and inclusive books. Read more »
For Disability Pride Month, the library offered storytimes, film discussions, an inclusive dance workshop, a peace circle for people who have disabilities that are not apparent, and hosted Oak Park’s first Disability Pride March. Read more »
More than halfway through her first year as the library’s executive director, Joslyn Bowling Dixon reported on accomplishments and committed to new equity and anti-racism work. “I am proud of the anti-racism and equity work our library has accomplished so far, and I am excited for the next chapter,” she said. “We will never be ‘done’ with striving to provide a culture that actively demonstrates that we are A Library For Everyone.” Read more »
We celebrated hip hop as it turned 50, along with many other libraries, museums, colleges, universities, and archives around the country. The collaborative initiative, Collections of Culture: 50 Years of Hip Hop Inside Libraries, Museums and Archives, was led by the Queens Public Library and funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In Oak Park, we put on a supa dupa fly fashion show, film screenings, spoken word and arts workshops, a T-shirt design contest, karaoke in the Idea Box, and more. Read more »
A research partnership between the library and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine won an award for its strong collaborative research principles and work to impact health and equity in Oak Park and neighboring communities. The partnership’s goal is to provide accessible, evidence-based mental health services to local teens, particularly those from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic communities and those who most experience health inequities. Read more »
OPALGA+ (Oak Park Area Gay and Lesbian Association) recognized our library for “outstanding efforts on behalf of LGBTQ+ people in Oak Park and the surrounding area.” Read more »
We offered two adult programs focused on trans and nonbinary identities and gender-affirming care. As a Library for Everyone, we believe that offering programs like these are a necessary component of us striving to be an anti-racist and equitable organization. Read more »