The Multicultural Center collection, formerly housed at Oak Park School District 97, has a new home inside of the Oak Park Public Library's Dole branch, 255 Augusta Blvd. The library hosted a public preview of the collection last month and plans on holding a formal grand opening ceremony on Jan. 27.
"More and more, we're a global society," said Kathleen Spale, OPPL's assistant manager of materials services, in a statement. "Research has shown that talking about diversity and reading books about cultures different from our own has tangible benefits."
Founded more than 30 years ago and formerly located at Julian Middle School, the Multicultural Center collection features thousands of items — such as traditional clothing, artifacts, films and books — from around the world.
Most of the items, said library officials, will be available for library cardholders to borrow for up to four weeks and are searchable through the library's online catalog. Some, like a rare Aztec calendar stone or a 6-foot-tall sarcophagus modeled on that of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen, are only for display.
Earlier this year, the Multicultural Center had to move from its longtime home in Julian, where surging enrollment levels demanded more instructional space. Over the summer, the library purchased the center's extensive collection — which its longtime sole staff member, Lynn Allen, said numbered around 15,000 items — from the school district for a nominal fee.
"Thanks to this partnership, the community will enjoy greater access to the collection's valuable resources," said District 97 Superintendent Carol Kelley in a statement posted on the library's website. "It will also further foster critical conversations about topics such as race, ethnicity, and diversity, and help teach people of all ages about the importance of cultural sensitivity, tolerance, civic action, and mutual respect."
"From all perspectives — the district's perspective, the library's perspective — this is a win-win," said D97 board President James Gates during an interview last week. "You're going to see the items showcased in a way that they hadn't been able to be showcased in the past. It makes it much easier for the community to access."
Most of the collection will be organized by continent, with sub-categories, such as human rights, family diversity and immigration.
"Having access to unique, three-dimensional artifacts — tactile items families can interact with — will create memorable opportunities for learning, especially with children," said Spale.