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Since arriving last May at his new post as executive director of the Oak Park Public Library, David Seleb has been in a transitional mode, observing and assessing things internally. But as the New Year begins, Seleb said he will branch out into the community to launch a series of formal and informal conversations, in an effort to discern what aspirations Oak Parkers have for the public library that began serving them in 1903.
Along with him will be Cynthia "Cyndee" Landrum, the public library's newly hired assistant director for public services. Part of her role will be to take the library further into the world of digital content. It is an area with which the co-author of research on topics including future content creation, copyright and fair use, and race and gender in library leadership positions is familiar and ready to develop beyond the skillset she possesses now.
Jim Madigan, an Oak Park library veteran, continues as assistant director for administrative services.
"Some libraries are looking for ways for people to create their own content. Well, what does that mean? It can be a lot of things and it can really be intriguing because there are a lot of opportunities for people to create, movies and videos, or even self-publish a book," Landrum, a new Oak Park resident, says. "We are not quite there yet, [because] the question becomes … how does that happen, and what does it mean for you as the creator of content here, out in the world. And, what is the role of the library in all that?"
To forge further ahead, Landrum says she is in a recruitment phase to hire a digital content manager.
"We do have a position that we are currently in recruitment for, and that person's role will be to look at all of the content, very holistically, and to 'unsilo' it and figure out how do we leverage everything that that we offer to create a really great customer experience for people who may come in to attend a program, or check out a book — how do we make it all sort of work together in a really fluid way? It is the interconnectivity of those things."
A partial preview, she says, of what the future may hold for Oak Park's libraries— main branch and two smaller branches — is the Idea Box project, which is currently a dedicated 19-foot x 13-foot space located just inside the Main Library where monthly a new and dynamic participatory community experience is debuted. Once there, visitors are encouraged to learn something new through tinkering, experimentation and play.
"Idea Box is an opportunity for you to participate in what the library is doing," she says. "[What we hope to be doing more of] is actively engaging you in creating content that other community members are engaged with. Yes, all this could mean that the library could be investing in some more technology, but that will depend on what the community says its aspirations are, as there are a multitude of ways to do this."
A concierge model
Nowadays, to stroll into the main library's lobby is to know that its design is new, open and intentional — the culmination of an experiment that began prior to Seleb's arrival last year.
"We just finished the lobby re-configuration project," Seleb says. "The whole idea was to enable all staff members to personally engage with our customers on a more meaningful level. So, they are not just there to check materials in and out. They can be working with our customers on a more meaningful level to make sure that their experience in coming into the library is a happy and productive one, and assure that from the time they come in until the time they leave that they are talking to the people they need to talk to, and are getting to the places they want, or need to go. It is a sort of a concierge model, if you will. Previously the library was not set up to do that."
To support him in the area of improving system-wide customer relations, he says, last month Lori Pulliam, a long-time manager for branch services, and previously a children's librarian at OPPL, was promoted to manager of customer services. In this newly created leadership roll, she will head a staff of 49 branch employees.
"These changes help streamline the library's senior management team as we all prepare to develop a new shared vision and finalize a 2014 action plan that focuses on deeper community connections," Seleb says.
Meanwhile, about 1.2 million items were checked out in 2013, and the technology options continue to be well used.
"We know people come here with a lot of needs for learning, and one of those areas is certainly about technology," says Seleb, a Chicago resident who has 13 years of library management experience. "So, I think we do need to look at how we can expand our role not only as providers of the devices, or the connectivity, or the access, but also as an avenue to even greater learning here."