The Oak Park Public Library reopened Tuesday after an online threat of violence forced it to close its doors to the public the day before. 

“We are grateful to everyone for their understanding, support, and patience,” Joslyn Bowling Dixon, the library’s executive director, said in a statement on the library’s website.

“Please know your library continues to put people and safety first, and we look forward to opening our doors and welcoming everyone back into all three buildings tomorrow.”

A police search of all three Oak Park Public Library branches Monday morning turned up nothing of concern, according to police. The investigation was concluded by 11:42 a.m. Monday.

“The Oak Park Police Department has deemed the threat received yesterday to be not credible at this time,” said Dan Yopchick, spokesperson for the Village of Oak Park.

It’s not clear why library officials decided not to open later on Monday.

Yopchick said the library executive director would make the decision about reopening and that police would be contacted if problems persisted. 

Oak Park Public Library received its threat at 7 p.m. Sunday through its contact page on the library’s website.

“There will be a big explosion all over Cook county’s highways and librarys including Chicago gurnee and oak park. It will explode sometime tomorrow 8/21/2023,” the threat said. 

The threat was one of many made across the region over the past several days. 

Several libraries across the northern suburbs received similar threats on Aug. 17, including in Morton Grove, Park Ridge and Wilmette. All came through contact pages or chat functions on the libraries’ websites. All were determined hoaxes.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias Tuesday said he “strongly condemned” the recent threats. As secretary of state, he also holds the role of the state’s librarian.

“The bomb threats received by Illinois libraries during the past several days represent a troublesome and disturbing trend that has escalated from banning books, to harassing and criminalizing librarians and now to endangering the lives of innocent people,” Giannoulias said.

The incidents come amid an uptick in calls for violence in Illinois and across the nation as libraries face heightened scrutiny for stocking books about LGBTQ+, racism, race and other issues.

“This isn’t new,” said Cynthia Robinson, executive director of the Illinois Library Association. 

Bomb threats were made in 2018 to public libraries of Morton Grove, Park Ridge and Des Plaines. In those instances, the threats were accompanied by extortion attempts, letting library personnel know that a device would detonate if payment was not made, she said.

Robinson said she did not know whether the most recent string of threatening messages sent to libraries was just a trend or behavior that is expected to continue. She said employees of other local libraries have reached out to her to express fears that their workplace could be the next to receive a threat – or worse.

“It’s very upsetting, not just for the libraries that are getting the threats, but also their neighboring libraries,” Robinson said. “Libraries across the state are anxious.”

She added that libraries who faced these threats have dealt with the matter appropriately by closing premises and contacting police. In the face of such uncertain and frightening times, she said, public libraries really need the help of the public.

“Libraries are there to serve their communities and they need that support of their communities,” said Robinson.

The Oak Park Public Library has, up until this point, been shielded from criticism of antiracism, LGBTQ+ and equity efforts and it’s taken a proactive approach against literary censorship, although it has not had any requests in the last five years to remove certain titles from its shelves. In June, the library partnered with the Village of Oak Park to become a sanctuary against book banning, which will be prohibited under state law come  Jan. 1. 

It also supports inclusivity and equity efforts, often hosting events and special displays dedicated to widening perspectives on race, sexuality, gender and cultural awareness. The library has an anti-racism advisory team, an anti-racist book club and a Black staff affinity group, as well as affinity groups for Latinx and an LGBTQ+ library staff. 

The library has received ample public support on its Facebook page.

“I’m glad the staff are all safe. It’s sad that anyone should be threatened by the free access to information and ideas,” one poster commented. 

“Is there anything the public can do to support you all on this?” another wrote.  “I’m so sorry this is happening.”

Melissa De Jesus-Vazquez wrote on her personal Facebook she was “annoyed” that she was unable to get books she had on hold.

“I have a couple of books on hold and didn’t get a chance to get them this weekend so I thought no biggie, I’ll go on Monday during my lunch to get them,” she posted. “Well last night at 9:45 p.m. I get an email from Oak Park Library that read, “Out of an abundance of caution, all library buildings will be closed Monday, August 21. Here’s why: Sunday after buildings were closed, the library received a threat via email warning of planned explosions at our locations on Monday, August 21.” Turns out Oak Park wasn’t the only town to receive such a threat… it happened last week to the Morton Grove, Park Ridge, and Wilmette libraries as well. Thankfully the threats are not to be credible but seriously WTF! Obviously I am annoyed I can’t get my books but more pissed that our libraries are being threatened. Why?”


But she told Wednesday Journal what bothered her the most was that someone out there resorted to threatening violence against a public institution. 

“This is appalling,” she said. “It’s devastating.” 

The brief closure was an inconvenience to her, but she said she knows others rely on the library for free story time, internet, access to computers and other services. That was taken away from the people who needed it, even if maybe it was only “some coward just sitting behind a desk” making these threats with no intention of carrying them out. 

Regardless, the experience for her was frightening.

“It’s nerve wracking because now kids are going to back to school and who’s to say that this won’t happen again,” said De Jesus-Vasquez.

Wednesday Journal has reached out to the Oak Park Public Library for comment.

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