Community Engagement: Oak Park Public Library to sign the Declaration for the Right to Libraries

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By Steve Zalusky, @ your library staff

Over the years, Oak Park, Ill. has been associated with such cultural figures as Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Today, Oak Park's status as a cultural center is maintained by its library.

That library is taking additional steps toward cementing its role at the heart of its community.

Oak Park Public Library Executive Director David J. Seleb recently wrote in a piece for a local website, "One of the things I have learned since joining Oak Park Public Library as executive director in May is that Oak Park citizens are second to none in their love and support for the library."

Seleb told his readers, "I know you would agree with me that Oak Park Public Library — all libraries — change lives."

In the piece, Seleb said he is introducing his patrons to two library initiatives: the American Library Association (ALA)'s Declaration for the Right to Libraries, a nationwide movement and petition-signing to support America's right to libraries of all types, and Community Conversations, a new series of community forums to share, to listen, to learn and to create energy for local change.

ALA President Barbara StriplingSeleb wrote, "ALA President Barbara Stripling unveiled the Declaration last year in Nashville, Tenn., as part of her 'Libraries Change Lives' initiative. Since then, libraries across the country have hosted signing ceremonies and thousands of people have signed the declaration, declaring their support for the role of libraries in every community."

He quoted Stripling, who said, "Libraries provide services that inspire and empower their users to change their lives through education. The Declaration will serve as an advocacy tool to help communities take action and illustrate the value of their libraries and library staff. Our hope is that library supporters will take advantage of this tool and present collected signatures to local leaders and legislators throughout the year." 

Seleb said February's Main Library Idea Box will showcase the Declaration, "giving Oak Parkers an opportunity to read its tenets, which expound upon how libraries and library staff share in a community's learning."

A special signing event will be held on President's Day, Monday, Feb. 17. Everyone is encouraged to attend and sign the Declaration. He added that library customers may also visit Maze Branch Library and Dole Branch Library anytime in February to provide signatures. 

"One of the most rewarding aspects of serving as library director is being part of growth and change, and I would love to hear your story. Meanwhile, I hope that you will join me in signing the Declaration," he wrote.

In addition to showing support for libraries as essential institutions, it is one of his personal goals to begin conversations about the role his library plays in the community.

In February, the library will kick off a series of Community Conversations, open sessions aimed at learning about your aspirations and desires for Oak Park. 

"Through open dialogue, guided by specific questions, I hope to get to know many more of you. The library wants to learn about your needs and aspirations, and gain all the public knowledge we can to take action. While each conversation may not directly lead to a new library policy or service, we promise to share what we learn with everyone, especially with those who participate."

Open to everyone, conversations will continue through 2014. The first four are planned for Wednesday, Feb. 19 (10 a.m. or 7 p.m.) at Main Library, Tuesday, Feb. 25 (7 p.m.) at Dole Branch, and Saturday, March 8 (10 a.m.) at Maze Branch. 

In an interview with, Seleb said he thought the concept of the Declaration would be a perfect fit for the library's participatory space in the Main Library known as The Idea Box.

He said his library engages with his community through collaboration with various community organizations and agencies.

"One of the ways that I would like to expand that engagement in the future is through the use of the methods developed by Rich Harwood and the Harwood Institute (for Public Innovation)," he said.

Seleb said he attended the Public Innovators Lab in Washington, D.C. in October. He said he was impressed by the methods and their potential for real meaningful community engagement.

"Since then, I have been introducing the concepts here to my staff and members of the board of trustees," he said.

The result has been the community conversations program.

"We're really excited about the potential for using those tools to gain a lot of valuable public knowledge about what our customers - what people in Oak Park - need and want."

The Oak Park Public Library serves the 53,000 residents of the village of Oak Park, a very diverse community full of involved citizens. The public library is the heart of a lot of what is happening in the community, Seleb said.

"We are a community center for activity and information in the community, and we are very heavily used by the residents."

Libraries Change Lives: Declaration for the Right to LibrariesTo read the full text of The Declaration for the Right to Libraries (available in English and Spanish) or for information on how to organize an event or sign the Declaration online, please visit

You can also follow the Declaration for the Right to Libraries Facebook page to show your support.

To learn more about ALA President Barbara Stripling's "Libraries Change Lives" initiative visit:


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