adam olson



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?

Thanks to the OPCTA for organizing this questionnaire. As you know, Thomas Jefferson wrote that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy. OPCTA as a defender of democracy in that respect, as well as the Oak Park Public Library. This is why I care about public libraries.

I believe in community service. Of the many ways to serve, I believe I’m most valuable to fellow Oak Parkers on the Library Board. I have five years of professional experience studying and advocating for reforms to expand library services in Minneapolis. I now work in the policy division of Oxfam, a poverty relief through human rights organization. 

This is my first time seeking elected office.

I chose to run for Library Board now for two reasons: First, I intend to call Oak Park home for the foreseeable future. Second, I was recruited to run by current and past Library Trustees because of my qualifications and the usual lack of candidates. To everyone’s surprise, there are ten candidates running for four seats on the Library Board. It’s an honor to be part of this cohort. I’m a policy analyst, advocate, and organizer. I used these skills to support a reorganization of the Minneapolis and Hennepin County libraries. I would bring my expertise gained by studying public libraries nationally, my experience helping implement change for the Minneapolis Public Library, and a human rights-based approach to public policy to the Library Board.

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

Yes. Since childhood, I have volunteered for social and environmental justice organizations, started grassroots campaigns, and collaborated with people of all backgrounds and political leanings for common causes. I’m fortunate to have made a vocation of my avocation. I am an Advocacy Advisory in Oxfam America’s policy division, where I work on federal legislation with global implications to the fight against poverty.

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?

Oak Park Public Library customers reflect the diversity of our village. However, efforts to include all concerned groups in programming and service decisions must be tireless. I applaud the Library's existing Community Conversations initiative, which is part of its wider commitment to turning outward. Partnerships with other governmental entities and community organizations can further ensure that the Library is reaching all of Oak Park.

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

I would encourage deeper collaborations through existing frameworks such as the Collaboration for Early Childhood and IGOV. These platforms could be used more effectively. I believe the Library is already engaged in meaningful bilateral collaboration with the Village, Township, and our schools.

Within the library community, Oak Park Public Library is part of the SWAN library cooperative. This links the collections of dozens of Illinois public libraries.

The Library Board must continue to encourage collaboration and adequately funding it. I believe the Board has done a good job toward this end.

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?

First, it is important to understand that this move is not wildly experimental. Many public libraries around the country have made similar decisions, some operating with variations on “no fine” policies for years. It’s not a good option for all libraries, but it is appropriate for Oak Park. I believe the Library has done a good job explaining the rationale. We will see more information as the launch date approaches.

Unintended consequences will include initial confusion about which materials are fine-free. For instance, a book acquired by interlibrary loan could still incur late fees.

This policy change will improve customers’ relationship with the Library. The guaranteed consequence is greater library use. The mere risk of incurring an overdue fine can be a financial or cultural barrier to library services. I know this firsthand through my work in Minneapolis.

Through the experience of other “fine-free” libraries, we can expect that library circulation will increase, the number of overdue books will remain roughly flat, and the loss of fine revenue will be outweighed by the benefit of more people taking advantage of library services. It’s a way of deepening the Library’s impact.

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?

From firsthand experience working at other libraries, I know the customer experience is significantly better when in-house staff have the responsibility.

I believe the change immediately brought about one important desired result: greater accountability. We’re already starting to see the longer-term benefits, including better customer service overall, better relationships with those library customers who frequently need special attention, and improved security staff retention. If elected, I would ask fellow Trustees to request a staff review of the decision.

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?

The problem has more to do with shifting politics than shifting values. The elimination of the NEH and NEA are proposals. We have to organize to fight for them, along with other essential programs. I do not accept their elimination as a forgone conclusion at this time.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going to public libraries. Should changes in Springfield or Washington push more families into poverty, we can count on library use to rise. During the Great Recession, library visits, circulation, computer use, and program attendance rose significantly. Job seeker assistance became an offering at many American public libraries. We can prepare for this scenario. Fortunately, the Oak Park Public Library has an excellent fund reserve that could help the Library rise to the occasion.

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?

As a child of two teachers, the value of lifelong learning was instilled in me at an early age - including through public library. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and am fortunate to have a job that provides constant demand for me to continue studying in all of its forms. I believe public libraries are a “cradle to grave” institution, and would work to ensure Oak Park Public Library continues to meet that charge.

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

I am glad this question recognizes these spaces as a resource. Indeed, all Oak Park Public Library locations are also community centers. Meeting and event space is in high demand. It's a challenging problem. The Library Board has and must continue to consider space premiums, fees that could be barriers to use, expenses related to those spaces, and defining appropriate use of taxpayer dollars related to hosting these events.

Meeting room policies should give priority to government and community organizations holding events that are open to the public, and make the space affordable for them.

The Library Board must also recognize that meeting space can be a small source of entrepreneurial income. For instance, it would be appropriate to charge a for-profit entity a premium to use the space.

I understand these policies are currently under review. If elected, I would look at the policies in place and ask fellow Trustees to request a staff report on the matter.

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?

Yes. Even over my relatively short lifetime, it has been exciting to see public libraries adapt to and be on the leading edge of technology. Augmented reality learning, 3D printers, artificial intelligence programming, and digital recording tools are just a few possibilities on the horizon. Contrary to popular belief, public libraries tend to be cutting edge institutions. The Library Board will need to take care to ensure new technologies are explored while staying within budget.

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

My campaign is entirely self-funded. My budget is $200. I have asked those interested in donating to my campaign to instead consider greater needs or more urgent causes.