Homeless people sleeping in the corner, teenagers who don’t seem to be using the library for anything other than hanging out in front of the facility entrance. They’re topics occasionally broached at public meetings, but nothing ever seems to change.
Not anymore, says David J. Seleb, executive director of the Oak Park Public Library.
The library has created a new position that aims to address the needs of those so-called at-risk and other marginalized patrons and, in doing so, enhance the experience for all library goers.
The library recently hired Robert A. Simmons, an experienced social worker who’s worked as an interventionist in the Youth Services Division at Oak Park Township to fill new the position of manager for community resources.
“He’s done this work for Oak Park for many years; we’re fortunate to have someone who already understands our objectives and the community’s objectives,” Seleb said.
Simmons starts the position on March 7, according to a press release.
Seleb described Oak Park as a welcoming community, and he said Simmons’ job will be to “help make sure Oak Park Public Library is a welcoming place for all while also making sure our library spaces are safe and secure for all our patrons and staff.”
Seleb acknowledged that he and library staff get complaints from patrons about youths hanging out in and around the building and homeless people at the library, but he said the goal for Simmons is to address those issues before they become a problem.
The library pays AlliedBarton Security Services to provide security for the facility. The security guards basically make sure patrons are abiding by the library rules and are not disrupting others.
Seleb said it is uncertain if the security service will continue at the library once Simmons has had some time to settle into the position.
The library noted in a press release that the innovative approach to policing the library and providing services to marginalized patrons is being tried in a handful of communities across the nation – Denver, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Seleb said in the press release that as a youth interventionist, Simmons has worked with numerous Chicago-area service providers, including Oak Park School District 97 and Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200, the village of Oak Park and the Park District of Oak Park.
The library also has partnerships with organizations such as the Oak Park Consortium to End Homelessness, Prevail and Housing Forward, Seleb said, adding, “Rob is going to help us continue to strengthen those bonds.”
Simmons holds a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in human organizational development from Vanderbilt University.