A new intergovernmental agreement has the inadvertent added benefit of making parking at the underground garage of the Oak Park Public Library’s main branch easier for library patrons. The community’s positive response to this relatively simple agreement between the library and the Village of Oak Park was unexpected for OPPL Executive Director Joslyn Bowling Dixon.

“I keep being pleasantly surprised that people have mentioned it to me,” she told Wednesday Journal. “I didn’t even know people were paying attention that hard.”

The five-year intergovernmental agreement only technically applies to where library employees can park their vehicle. For this reason, Bowling Dixon did not expect the public would take notice of it.

“We were thinking we were only doing something internal,” she said

 Under the agreement, the village is providing the library 25 parking permits for a period of five years at a reduced rate for its Avenue Parking Garage, 720 N. Blvd, for staff parking. At the end of the five years, the library will have paid the village $11,453.50 for the permits.

The library board approved the agreement July 25 and the village board, July 31. The item was part of the village board’s consent agenda, so it was not discussed by board members. Village President Vicki Scaman said she is pleased with the agreement.

“I think these are the types of partnerships we should have,” she said. “We serve the same constituency.”

The agreement came out of a request brought forward to Bowling Dixon by library employees to address the issue of minimal staff parking, now that the library has returned to primarily in-person operations because the threat of COVID-19 has subsided. The library added more staff positions in the last three years as well, raising the number of employees in need of a place to park their cars at work.

The minimized health risk of being around other people also resulted in patrons, not just employees, returning to the library, which they were unable to do during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And not all of those patrons live within walking distance of the library’s three branches.

“That’s like a perfect storm,” said Bowling Dixon of the increased parking needs.

In allowing library staff to park at the Avenue garage, spaces will be freed up for patrons in the library’s parking garage underneath the Main Library, 834 Lake St. The library garage is usually full, so it’s not uncommon to pull into the small garage and find other cars driven by people on the same mission to find an unoccupied parking spot.

And while it’s more convenient for employees to park directly at their place of work, some library staffers may prefer to use the much bigger, newer Avenue garage over the library’s, which is small and narrow with shorter ceilings, constructed during a time when sports utility vehicles and minivans were less prevalent, according to Bowling Dixon. Given its size, a lot of spaces in the library garage are specifically for compact cars.

“Almost no one has a compact car,” said Bowling Dixon.

Library staff have not started parking at the Avenue garage just yet. Some employees come and go, while others stay at their branches all day, so library leadership is still in the process of determining which employees will park where.

Bowling Dixon, however, is not opposed to parking her car at the Avenue garage. She’s a “huge supporter” of the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce and hopes that having some library staffers park downtown will prompt them to pop into some of the shops and businesses on their way to and from work. Plus, walking is good exercise.

“You might as well get a little coffee or stop by the cleaners,” she said. “And we could all walk around more, right?”

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