Library recognized for ‘outstanding efforts on behalf of LGBTQ+ people’

In October, 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.”

The library’s Executive Director Joslyn Bowling Dixon accepted the OPALGA+ Mel Wilson Founders Award at the OPALGA+ Annual Scholarship Fundraiser Gala on October 22. Library staff, including members of the Collections Team, and library board members attended as well (pictured above).

“Tonight we recognize a local champion of free expression,” read the event program. “At a time when the essential freedom to read is under attack, libraries across the state and across the country have been the most visible targets. Oak Park Public Library has never wavered. They are a leader in challenging the growing library censorship movement, which has focused on banning books by and about LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups.”

OPALGA+ praised our library for being a book sanctuary, “which means they make a point of carrying all books already banned or facing threats of being banned by schools and other libraries”; for hosting “a powerful display to honor lives lost to transgender violence to mark Transgender Awareness Day” last November); for offering drag storytelling since 2019 and the Read to the Royals program earlier this year; and for “creating a warm and affirming space for people, and especially youth, to find their voice, stand up for what they believe and share who they are.”

As our library strives to be A Library for Everyone, Dixon said, “I am proud of the inclusive and engaging efforts of our teams to create an inclusive and safe space for all of our patrons.”

‘A strong ally’ & ‘local champion of free expression’

In notifying our library about the award via email, OPALGA+ board member Wendy Cole praised the library’s “fearless and committed efforts to promote free expression” in a time of “mounting pressures and attacks on libraries.” The OPALGA+ board sees the library “as a beacon in our region for those concerned about the censorship movement and the future of libraries,” she said. 

Cole also called the library a “strong ally” and emphasized Rainbow Services Librarian Hal Patnott’s work as evidence of the library’s “consistent stand for the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ people to be represented and celebrated, as well as to participate fully and equally in civic life.”

“The relationships I have with students, caregivers, and educators mean so much to me,” Patnott said. “I am hopeful and excited to expand on all the ways that we already support and collaborate with one another to make Oak Park a place where people of all ages, but especially youth, feel affirmed as they explore and express who they are.”

More about the award

The OPALGA+ Founders Award in memory of Mel Wilson, a founding member of the group who died in 2017, recognizes outstanding efforts on behalf of LGBTQ+ people in Oak Park and the surrounding area. Honorees exemplify the spirit of community effort in the promotion of diversity.

The library was one of two honorees in 2023. Erich Krumrei, the owner of Play It Again Sports in Forest Park, also received a Founders Award.

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