An Update from the Library

The Oak Park Library System will never “check-out” of their community.

The Oak Park Public Library aims to be the glue that holds Oak Park together. Through their books, databases, music, movies, a surplus of different programs, and more, the library has every resource necessary to fill the needs of their town and maintain an educated, and engaged community.
The State Library of Iowa says, “Libraries are important cornerstones of a healthy community.”, and the Oak Park Library works to fulfill this philosophy. Rashmi Swain, head of Adult Education and Career Services, recognizes the importance of the library falling under one main mission, which is to learn “ what the community needs, and building on it.”
In the article “Why Libraries” on the OPPL website, the main reasons why communities need libraries are highlighted.
Firstly, libraries help build an educated community. “Librarians have been helping people fact check since forever. Libraries help build knowledge and vet fake news. (OPPL)”
Secondly, libraries welcome differences in opinions. “Blue state or red state, everyone benefits from an enlightened state. Libraries inspire community dialogue. (OPPL)”
Finally, libraries encourage equal opportunity. “Libraries open doors for all people regardless of race, age, education, ethnicity, gender, language, income, physical limitation or geographic barrier. (OPPL)” The Oak Park Public Library aims to do all these things and more, which is why it has become such an essential part of our community to so many people.
Before the pandemic, the library was a hotspot in Oak Park. Whether people were there to access their quiet study rooms, get help for a job interview, or simply to check out a book, the library was never empty.
The library quickly got to moving their services online. Many of which were already offered there, like their helpdesks, but the ones that were not quickly made the adjustment. The children’s storytimes, job interview seminars, interviewing workshops and more have all gone virtual via Zoom.
In terms of in-person interactions, the library reopened June 24th for Phase 1. The only service offered was a drive-through book drop off and pick up for digitally requested resources. This service was completely contact-free to limit the spread of the virus.
“Safety has always been a priority for the library,” Swain said, “and making sure both our patrons and staff are safe during a pandemic is a big challenge.” Even with this priority, the library was still anxious to reopen. It was essential that the community started to gain back access to their in-building resources.
The library opened its doors for Phase 2 on Aug. 24. Computers are available now for 45-minute sessions, some socially distant in-person services are available, and a home delivery service for the elderly in Oak Park was started.
In the hopefully near future, all library branches will open back up for Phase 3. According to the article “Our plan to reintroduce services, reopen buildings” on the OPPL website, Phase 3 will mean “Full service(s) restored. Dole & Maze reopen. In-person library programs return, including onsite storytime, outreach to preschools. (OPPL)” However until then, community members should not look for huge advances in things reopening.
As for how community members are adapting, Swain sees positive feedback. “Our patrons have been very understanding in that they’ve adapted to the ‘new norms,’ gracefully,” she said, “they understand that it is about their safety as well as staff’s safety.”
Maddie Brooker, a Junior at OPRF, who regularly took advantage of the library’s study rooms, talks about her thoughts on it. “The study rooms were very helpful to me, especially during finals, because they provided a good environment to study in. I miss being able to go in and get my homework done there, but I understand it’s about our and their safety.”
After COVID-19 hit, the library’s mission was bound to change. All of the programs and services the library offers have been preserved online. Swain runs an English Language Conversation Program at the library, which focuses on building a bigger English vocabulary for people new to the language. However, with the pandemic, they were not able to come in anymore. The library quickly adjusted though, and the program now takes place via Zoom. Although this isn’t the case for all programs, like the one-on-one learning labs that took place in their now limited-access building, they have found ways to work around it.
The loss of in-person learning means the people who don’t have internet or the technology to access the program online essentially lose access to it altogether, but there have also been upsides. The program has gained even more participants then it had before. “We’re able to help people outside of Oak Park,” Swain says. Their forced change of venue has stretched the library’s impact further than just Oak Park
The library staff is anxiously waiting for everything to go back to normal for the library so they can continue serving their community. For now, like the rest of the world, they are getting by online.
To access the library’s online services, go to their website: https://www.oppl.org/ . Here, you can find all kinds of online resources, get access to ebooks, movies, music and more, and sign up or login into a digital version of your library account.

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