Matt Fruth

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Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's elections.

What qualifies you to serve on the library board and what motivated your interest in the position?

I have had the honor of serving on the Board for the past 12 years and while I do bring a good deal of institutional knowledge to the Board, I know that I am still open to and excited by new ideas that are brought forward by staff and the public.

I remain interested in serving on the Board by the current evolution we are seeing in parts of how public libraries respond to and interact with their communities. We have seen a lot of change in not just how the Oak Park Public Library operates but how public libraries across the country approach their service models.

The library recently implemented a social worker program that replaced private security guards at the library with in-house social workers. What are your thoughts concerning this change?

I was and continue to be supportive of this change. There was a recognition by both the Board and the staff that a uniformed security presence was no longer working for us in addressing issues of behavior management as well as us having a desire for a proactive resource to some of our patrons most in need. We wanted a presence that would hopefully focus more on de-escalation than confrontation and I feel that we have successfully achieved that goal. This has manifested not just in the social worker staff but through the training and expertise that has been made available to all of the staff in the library.

The library is currently paying down bond debt for construction of the Main Library. Should the library reduce its tax burden on residents once the bond debt is retired and if so how? Should cuts be made to existing library initiatives to further reduce the tax burden? If so, which ones specifically?

The Library should reduce its tax burden as the bond debt is retired. It can do this by not increasing its operating budget in amounts equal to the retiring debt payments. The Library's main building is approaching 15 years of operation at which point some of the building systems are going to start seeing increased maintenance costs and eventual replacement. The Library Board should consider using a portion of the expiring property tax burden to prepare for the large ticket items that will incur significant expenses in coming years.  This will allow the Library to ease the property tax burden on residents and exercise fiscally responsible planning at the same time.

One of the trends that public libraries experience is that when economies experience down turns libraries see increased demand on their resources and services. Given that 12% of our budget expenses are allocated to material acquisitions and about 73% of our budget expenses are allocated to personnel salaries and benefits that leaves about 15% of our annual budget for everything else. That means for us to execute spending cuts that would have meaningful impact on a property tax bill we would have to cut into our staffing levels or our collection, both of which would be detrimental to the level of service that we strive to provide to the people of Oak Park.

The library is considering eliminating late fines for books. Do you support this initiative? If so, why? What else can the library do to increase outreach to patrons?

I was initially hesitant to this change in policy. However, after several board meeting discussions that included staff as well as talking with quite a few people in Oak Park I was convinced that this was the right change to make. It is my hope that this change will make more parents comfortable with their children having their own library cards and that will give those children the empowerment of checking out their own books on their own card.

One of the biggest challenges with public libraries is finding out why people don't use any of the library services or attend any of the programs. We continue to include our information through the FYI publication, but we need to continue to look for new ways to put ourselves at community events whether it is through a booth at the Farmer's Market or the Book Bike continuing to make the rounds at various outdoor events in the village. One thing the staff at the library has never shied away from is trying to come up with ideas for engaging more of our neighbors to take part in what the Library offers.

What should the library be doing to move beyond its traditional mission of loaning books, DVDs and other materials?

For centuries, the most efficient piece of technology to store and communicate information was the printed book and we have moved well past that state over the last 30 years at a faster and faster rate. We are now in a world where public libraries are more than just buildings that sit waiting for people to come in and ask for something to borrow. We reach out to people in their homes through our virtual services and home delivery. We interact with people through our programs, movie screenings, author presentations, and facilitation of book discussion groups among other services. We have an art gallery with a rotating exhibit of local artists as well our rotating interactive exhibits in the Idea Box just inside our front door.

What the Library should continue to do is to engage the community to find out how we can best serve them. We must continue to make efforts to find those who do not currently use Library services in order to find out why. Is it a matter that we don't offer a service that interests them or that they are unaware of all that we do offer? We have made those efforts and continue to do so that we can be proactive and not merely reactive. Libraries by nature are about sharing, it used to by just books but now it is all manner of physical materials as well as the knowledge, experience and insights of our staff and volunteers. The ability of public libraries to provide and share as many resources, tangible and intangible, as they are able to will be a key factor in maintaining their importance, the richness of our communities and the vibrancy of our democracy. 

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