RIVER FOREST Library Board (2 open seats)

Ates Dagli | Erik S. Harris | James Hopkinson | Karen Stierwalt


Erik S. Harris

candidate for 2019 River Forest LIBRARY Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board of Trustees, and why would those contributions be valuable to the River Forest Public Library?

As a new resident to River Forest, I’m eager to become an active representative of the community and volunteer as a trustee for the Library.

In my career as an architect, I act as a project manager, a technical specialist, a problem solver, and designer. In the course of design and construction of complex projects, I am frequently challenged with balancing the competing interests of different stakeholders, and almost always negotiating of the benefit of the design versus its cost.

It's important to me personally to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate historic structures, and I've been fortunate to work on doing this to historic structures as part of my past work experience. I would apply this kind of connection to the library as the Board prepares the Strategic Plan for health and future of the library as it occupies a historic and special place in the community.

2. What steps will you take to improve and expand community engagement with the Library and the Board? What is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents?

The Board, as an elected body, is responsible to represent and report to the public and the Village Trustees.

There are the open meetings and the minutes shared on the library’s website, which require an active effort by the constituent to participate. Further personal engagement with the Board and the community could be fostered by attendance at the Coffee Monday program to meet and listen to constituents, with responses in the RFPL Newsletter. There are also many opportunity to meet and listen to constituents by attending meetings at the school board and village hall. There are numerous opportunities at my children’s schools to see their friends’ families and neighbors at concerts, plays, conferences, and events. And as dog owners know, there are many relationships formed through pets just by being visible in the neighborhood.

It’s important that local elected officials be available to constituents wherever they meet and be able to report back. It’s vital for those officials to make available these written and distributed communications in a way that is permanently saved and easy to access.

3. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?

I try to be open and curious when meeting new people. I listen to a person’s wants and needs, respond with questions, and then listen again to their answers.

I've found that I'm learning more about the concerns and needs of the diverse community from my children's example about how they befriend and relate to the people they meet in middle and high school. I would hope to respect and apply their example as a representative of the community for the library.

4. What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Library Board?

I would act as a steward for the physical and communal library space, be a strong advocate for a the continued improvement to and preservation of its community identity, and design a plan that addresses the current and future needs of the people of River Forest.

5. What do you see as the most important duties of a River Forest Library Trustee?

A Trustee represents the interests of the community and taxpayer to maintain the functions of the library. These functions include acting as the property owner, authoring the plan for the library’s future, advocating for the library’s mission, and administering the funds for the library’s operations.

My profession's ethical responsibility is to uphold the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the public in the built environment.

I would make this as my duty as a River Forest Library Trustee; to uphold the health and vitality of the library, ensure the safety of the people and its collection, and improve the welfare of the community.

6. In what ways are libraries are about more than books?

I see the library as the collection of the community's culture.

It's a physical and a virtual place where people gather to learn, search, explore, and meet.

It's the people who cultivate the collection, volunteer, read, share, and engage with one another.

It's a network, connecting other libraries, and connecting people with their neighbors, an author, or ideas.

7. What three things can the River Forest Library do to increase usage by middle school age ( i.e. , age 10-14) residents?

Our family moved to River Forest in the summer, 2 1/2 years ago when our kids were about this age; one going in to 4th Grade and to 7th Grade. In between meeting new neighbors and unpacking and looking for things to do, the library was their go-to destination most days. It became their benchmark for directions in town, their meeting place, and activity center.

The library can be that rare “third place” for kids this age, to give them something to do and a place to be.

The reading challenges and book clubs that the library hosts still gets my kids' interest, and it's amazing the draw that Harry Potter still has. Three other ideas to increase usage by middle school students would be

  • Tournament events for games

  • Social Media or Digital Lab, as much for parents as middle school students, to get introduced, and even more comfortable with, the different social media platforms, and to understand the importance of privacy, data collection, and trusted sources.

  • A YA reading room or area, with featured authors and popular titles in a space that has lounge seating

8. How do you keep abreast of changes in library trends?

Featured libraries in architecture magazines

The RFPL newsletter

RFPL Board meeting minutes, attachments, and presentations

Aspen Institute, “Re-Imagining Public Libraries”

9. With libraries adapting to the changing needs of their communities, what have you done (and/or what will you do) to ensure that the River Forest library is providing value to the River Forest community?

I see the library as constantly evolving; the contents of the collection are constantly in flux, the reference technology becomes more complex, and the needs of the patrons are various and vast. But the physical library is a place that has a fixed size and location. The challenge for the library to adapt to this change is to continue to encourage the creative evolution to take place within its fixed walls. I think the current layout of the River Forest Public Library is a good mix of balancing these competing requirements with the fixed stacks in the original, historic structure and the open flexible spaces in the addition.

I hope to encourage the board to find common ground, coordinate a plan for the ever changing needs, make the idea a reality for the community and continued success of the library.

10. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.


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[The above answers were supplied on 2/13/19. It may be possible to find more current financial information at the Illinois Sunshine website. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]