One of the things I have learned since joining Oak Park Public Library as executive director in May is that Oak Park citizens are second to none in their love and support for the library. 

I know you would agree with me that Oak Park Public Library — all libraries — change lives.  That is why I am excited to introduce you to two upcoming library initiatives: the American Library Association (ALA)’s Declaration for the Right to Libraries, a nationwide movement and petition-signing to support America’s right to libraries of all types, and Community Conversations, a new series of community forums to share, to listen, to learn, and to create energy for local change.

ALA President Barbara Stripling unveiled the Declaration last year in Nashville, Tenn., as part of her “Libraries Change Lives” initiative. Since then, libraries across the country have hosted signing ceremonies and thousands of people have signed the declaration, declaring their support for the role of libraries in every community. In an ALA press release, Stripling is quoted as saying, “Libraries provide services that inspire and empower their users to change their lives through education. The Declaration will serve as an advocacy tool to help communities take action and illustrate the value of their libraries and library staff. Our hope is that library supporters will take advantage of this tool and present collected signatures to local leaders and legislators throughout the year.” 

And, so we will.

February’s Main Library Idea Box will showcase the Declaration, giving Oak Parkers an opportunity to read its tenets, which expound upon how libraries and library staff share in a community’s learning. A special signing event will be held on President’s Day, Monday, Feb. 17. Everyone is encouraged to attend and sign the Declaration. Library customers may also visit Maze Branch Library and Dole Branch Library anytime in February to provide signatures. 

How has the library changed your life? One of the most rewarding aspects of serving as library director is being part of growth and change, and I would love to hear your story. Meanwhile, I hope that you will join me in signing the Declaration.

In addition to showing support for libraries as essential institutions, it is one of my personal goals to begin conversations about the role our library plays in the community. In February, the library will kick off a series of Community Conversations, open sessions aimed at learning about your aspirations and desires for Oak Park. 

Through open dialogue, guided by specific questions, I hope to get to know many more of you. The library wants to learn about your needs and aspirations, and gain all the public knowledge we can to take action. While each conversation may not directly lead to a new library policy or service, we promise to share what we learn with everyone, especially with those who participate. 

Open to everyone, conversations will continue through 2014. The first four are planned for Wednesday, Feb. 19 (10 a.m. or 7 p.m.) at Main Library, Tuesday, Feb. 25 (7 p.m.) at Dole Branch, and Saturday, March 8 (10 a.m.) at Maze Branch. 

I look forward to meeting you, and encourage you to take this opportunity to make a difference in your community.  

David J. Seleb is executive director of the Oak Park Public Library.

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