Learn from the Oak Park library

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I'm a big fan of OP/FYI "A Newsletter from the Village Of Oak Park." This monthly publication has lots of interesting tidbits like "Be cautious, but don't run from a coyote." Seems counterintuitive. Then there was "Beekeeping approved; rules protect those with allergies." I wonder if Dressel's Hardware sells bees and hives. Could be good pets. You don't have to walk them. There was also info about holiday tree pickup, recycling those hateful tree lights and block party reservations. News you can use.

This monthly is not the New Yorker, but you can read it in 15 minutes and it's free.

The same mailing contains an insert whereby the library piggybacks on the village, and we get similar info about what's going on at the library. For example, you can see the great movie Winter's Bone at the Main Library today at 6:30 p.m. I also learned that the Oak Park library got a 4-star rating from the Library Journal. My initial celebratory ardor was slightly diminished when I learned that there is a 5-star grade, but four stars is very hard to get. It's kind of like our library is Charlie Trotter's, but not Alinea. Charlie Trotter's is really good. And the library is free. Charlie Trotter's isn't.

The rating confirmed what I thought all along: Our library is the best run tax-supported body in the village. The library never has a referendum unless it wants to build a beautiful structure that was worth every penny. The library never sues other village governments and is never sued by them. As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with a TIF, thank God. Starting Jan. 1, the library branches are now open on Sundays and an hour later Monday through Thursday. It is a rare government that expands service in these difficult economic times. The library joined SWAN, a regional system, where I can get a popular book a lot faster than I used to. The employees are very friendly, even if some of them are kind of bookish. Go figure.

Maybe the library sets a standard by which other village governments might be measured. I wonder how many stars District 200, District 97 and the village would get. They would probably do pretty well, but I'm not so sure they would get four stars like the library. Now the other governments have a different and arguably harder mission than the library, but I do think they could learn a few things from the library. First, the library is committed to being client-friendly. It's all about the patrons. The other bodies sometimes seem patronizing, even adversarial. Their boards act like they know more than the parents and citizens. They sometimes seem elitist and patronizing, and that attitude seeps into the whole organization.

Second, the library seems very open and straightforward about their operation. Not so with the other entities. They, especially Dist. 200, seem sneaky and defensive. There are always lots of unanswered questions, and I often feel we haven't gotten the full story — or only the part the boards feel we need to know. Good news is trumpeted, bad news suppressed. Even worse, these public bodies boast of their transparency, thereby adding hypocrisy to the critique.

All in all, these boards probably do a pretty good job. Many of the issues are so complicated, with so much history, that the average citizen like me has only a smattering of info and only tentative opinions. But any organization can do better, and the Oak Park Public Library just might have something to offer the other village governments — if they would only take a look.

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