'I LOVE the Idea Box!'

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By Oak Park Public Library

Last week Oak Park Public Library Assistant Director Jim Madigan was biking down Ridgeland, when he saw a familiar face biking towards him in the opposite direction. As he raised his hand to wave as she whizzed by, she smiled and shouted "I LOVE the Idea Box!"

Oak Park Public Library and the Oak Park community are very proud of its new innovation, Idea Box. It's a raw and transformable space that the library has built to reflect community needs and interests in a fun and participatory way. Picture a space that is the center of a community science project one month, transformed into a hacker jam the next, and home to a group of artists creating art in real time the next. This is Idea Box.

When the café closed in late 2011, library leadership began to wonder if there might be a better use for this valuable space in the vestibule. After a lot of discussion, Assistant Director Jim Madigan hit upon a great idea – what if this was a community showcase for local art and culture? The idea expanded, and started to resemble the participatory experiences popping up in museums all over the county. The café space was adapted by the library's own facilities staff to keep the project moving quickly and costs low, and Idea Box was born, now managed by me as the library's Customer Service Manager.

In April, the Idea Box transformed in to a poetry play space in honor of National Poetry Month. The walls were painted in bright black magnetic paint and words from several magnetic poetry sets were spread around the space.  It was through the course of this seemingly simple idea that the library got to see the true power of Idea Box in action. New poems were created every day. Old poems were broken apart to create new ones. Staff photographed poems and shared them on Facebook and Twitter.

Then in May, the library partnered with the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library for Leaving Czechoslovakia. The interactive show featured the oral histories of many Czechs and Slovaks who fled or emigrated to the United States during the Communist Era, as well as informational panels and local historical posters. Once again, the Idea Box successfully mixed traditional cultural elements with unexpected experiences.

Next came R.A.W. (Real Artists Work), an exhibit curated by Oak Park locals Faith Humphrey Hill and Stephen Hill, which featured local artists who created original art in the glassed in Idea Box space while library visitors watched, and then sold that work at a closing gallery show. Then the Night Sky, a touch wall of lights where visitors created their own constellations.

Several other exhibits are planned for the coming months. The library is proud to welcome an exhibit on Rose Yasgour and Jewish-American Women in Early Modern Dance on July 30. Oak Park Public Library is also hoping to feature video podcasting, an innovative community opinion wall, an Oak Park centered fitness resolution, technology demonstrations, and much more in the coming months.

Idea Box has surprised and delighted many visitors, and given the staff a chance to shine. This dynamic participatory community experience has won the 2012 DEMCO Library Innnovative Award from the Illinois Library Association.

Library staff members are partnering with the community in new ways, and the library feels that the possibilities for the Idea Box space are limitless. Oak Park Public Library knows that the influence and potential of this space will only continue to grow, making the library a leader in community practice and connection. For more on what's coming up, be sure to join us online.

~ Monica Harris, Customer Service Manager

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