maria meachum



What motivates you to seek this office? Have you participated in public service in the past? If so, how? If not, why now? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the board, and why would those contributions be valuable for the Library?

As a Rotarian for the last 8 years I have come to realize the importance of paying civic rent. As a Librarian and a Library Director I have decades of experience in every aspect of library service which I use in another community every day. I miss providing service to the community where I have lived for the last 20 years. I feel if one is going to give they should give where they can do the most good and for me that would be best achieved by helping the library. I used to serve on the PTO in OP District 97, and fostered for the Animal Care League. Now I serve on the Illinois Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, a Dow Chemical Community Advisory Panel member, Wilmington Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, serve as a community stakeholder for Wilmington’s CMAP and a member of the American Library Association. My experience in the levying process, understanding of the library laws, system policies, and demands facing libraries in the coming state and federal budget crisis give me the ability to hit the ground running.

Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change? Why or why not?

I would have to say I am very interested in being an agent of “change for the better.” Changes are going to happen regardless of what I personally do, but I tend to be someone who works to make sure the change is one that improves things. Big changes tend to happen at a glacial pace but backsliding can happen too easily. We have to resist the urge to go backwards, not just play to just the popular ideas, but try the ones that will not only expand services but will also make sure the library can sustain itself.

Do you feel there are communities or groups the Library has failed to sufficiently engage? If so, what initiatives would you advocate to promote increased engagement?

I don’t like to say that just because we don’t draw in every member of the public that it is a failure of the library. There will always be people who just won’t use the library no matter what you do, or offer, to attract them. That being said the library can always do more to promote their vast services. I would suggest creating more spaces that invite people to stay and investigate the library services. I would maybe consider a satellite location which has the maker space offerings a library our size is expected to offer. It would likely appeal to teens who are the hardest to engage.

How will you work to foster collaboration between the Library and other governmental organizations?

The library is already well plugged into the various other taxing bodies and the cooperation would, of course, continue. However, until I can identify exactly where they are not reaching I would not be able to say they need to do more. Oak Park is unique in the quantity of collaboration they do. I would offer to serve where needed. Likely this would involve attending other meetings. Board members are expected to be at more than the monthly meetings.

In June, the Library will eliminate fines for Oak Park residents borrowing OPPL materials. Do you foresee any unintended consequences to this policy? How do you anticipate this policy change will affect patrons’ relationship with the Library?

It is no secret that I was opposed to the elimination of fines and it is not because of the loss of the 6 figure income it brings in. If the director says they don’t need that money than I am sure he knows best about his funding sources and future needs. I know very few libraries who feel they have enough money in these times. I personally like fine income for a couple reasons.

First, it is money that comes from a source other than property taxes which are high enough. Second, you will never get a fine if you simply return the materials you borrowed when you agreed to. It teaches responsibility and in my experience those who have large fines usually are repeat offenders. Taking away the fines will not eliminate the bad borrowing behavior. If anything it will make it worse. In addition there will be confusion because not every situation is going to be exempt from fines and so when a patron does incur one, say like when they borrow from a neighboring library they will be upset at both the neighboring library and probably us.

Finally there are so many ways to avoid a fine, and so much communication about your materials due dates, that the number of people who accidentally incur fines had already drastically declined. While we are not the first to go fine free, those who have done so have started too recently for any long term data. Are the successes they enjoying truly a trend or are we seeing honeymoon stats? Finally if you don’t have to be back with you books every couple weeks you won’t be in as often as you were when your due dates pushed you to come. I think we will see a drop in visits to the library because of this. Regardless, this decision was already made and it is not a decision that can be undone. I think there were other measures we could have taken first that would have brought the same goodwill. Lowering fines was an option we could have explored first. Giving the staff carte blanche permission to waive fines would have done a lot too. We jumped into the deep end and now we will have to swim without those funds. In a time where we face likely property tax freezes, no state budget (which likely means little or no state Per Capita funds,) and now the possible loss of the NEA and the NEH which provide federal library funding, well I personally believe now was a bad time to lose income from any source. For once I pray I am completely wrong.

In the past six months, the Library has replaced outside security guards with social workers and employee security monitors. In your view, has this change had the desired result?

I love the use of social workers in the library. I see only great things happening because of it. I hope we see more of this kind of services in all libraries and more in Oak Park. They help librarians so much.

With shifting values at the national level, do you anticipate any shift in the Library’s role and responsibilities in our community? How would you approach the elimination of the NEH and NEA?

I see greater demands for help with finding replacements for all the lost social services already. I see expectations that we know where people should go and what they should do now that what used to help them is gone. We are becoming a social center, community center, crisis resource center, entertainment provider, source for affordable continuing education…sadly I could go on and on and on. Our demands increase everyday with every elimination of resources. We will also face greater demands with fewer resources. It is the library way.

Please describe how lifelong learning has been a value in your own life. How would bring this perspective to your work on the Library Board?

I never stop learning. It makes my life fuller. I have a voracious appetite for knowledge and my career allows me to indulge. One day I am in a welding class and the next I am investigating urban bee keeping. It keeps me going and I love that our community is full of similar learning enthusiasts. I would continue to suggest new programs and services to the director and board and hope they feel the same way about funding those opportunities. Everyone loves access to learning.

The Library is an essential meeting location for local businesses, governmental agencies, and non-profits. How do you believe this resource should be managed?

The library has very good policies in place for using their meeting spaces for public and business meetings. I would not change the policies unless they proved to be a safety risk for the public. If the spaces become too much in demand and no other space is available the village should consider using some of the village owned properties for servicing the demands of the public. The library is not a separate taxing body and therefore any need to make more “community spaces” above and beyond what they have is really a village issue and while the library could and should collaborate with them for a solution it is not necessarily the library’s job to solve all resource shortages. They do a good job of servicing some of the demand but one must have realistic expectations.

Over the years the Library has invested heavily in technology. Do you see unexplored opportunities for technology to enhance the Library’s work or extend its reach?

I see a need for a Maker Space that contains a variety of tech they have not invested in yet. Space is an issue right now so I envision a satellite location that specializes in just the tech services. I have a lot of ideas about tech solutions that could be made with what they own already.

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

I did not solicit any funds from any donors. Mine is strictly a grassroots campaign. The only money spent so far was a large latte at the Buzz Café to prepare myself for the candidate forum. Does that count?