Barbara Ballinger, 1990, shelving, or unshelving, Ernie. | CREDIT: Historical Society OPRF

I’d like to thank Wednesday Journal for printing tributes to Barbara Ballinger, former head librarian of the Oak Park Public Library. I’d also like to add my own personal memories of her:

I worked at the library for four years in the late 1980s. It was a time of immeasurable professional growth for me under Miss Ballinger’s leadership, and with the consecutive Children’s Services heads, Ruth Peaslee and Rita Cavanagh, as well as the highly professional librarians and support staff in Reference, Adult Services, and Circulation.

Miss B, as many of us called her, directed a library with best practices because her decisions were informed by the mission of the public library, a mission untarnished by time or trends.

Miss B had a warm and genuine interest in people. She was interested in and cared about the staff. If she asked about my family, I knew it was not a pro-forma question. She wanted to know how my family was doing. Miss B took time with her staff. She gave me encouragement and helpful advice after a presentation to the library board — advice I have not forgotten. She took me with her to a children’s literature lecture at the University of Chicago, and the conversation in the car rivaled the lecture. She wrote an inspiring note when I left the library. She was a warm, kind, encouraging, thoughtful person.

After Miss B retired and I moved on to other positions, we frequently came across each other around town — at Farmers Market where she stocked up on blueberries to freeze and enjoy throughout the winter; at library programs; at Oak Park River Forest History Museum events.

It was after one of these events, five years ago, that she asked me to drive her home, then invited me into her condo for a chat. It was a long, satisfying conversation. I basked in the presence of her poetry collection — an entire bookcase of poetry.

Finally, and I think this is metaphoric, we who worked at the old building knew when it was officially spring because Miss B would invite us, as we had a moment, into her office in the southeast corner of the building, there to enjoy and be inspired by the beauty and potential of a flowering tree in full bloom outside her window.

Blessings on your soul, Miss B.

Thank you.

Elaine D. Johnson
Oak Park

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