OAK PARK LIBRARY board (3 open seats)

Virginia D. Bloom-Scheirer | Colleen Burns | Theodore N. Foss


Virginia D. Bloom-Scheirer

candidate for 2019 oak park library board

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

Honestly, I was motivated by people in my community saying they thought I would be up to the challenge. I received encouraging words from friends and strangers especially once they knew I had volunteered with PADS/Housing Forward in the past. I have a deep respect for those working through housing insecurity and recognize that the library is a place that can help them tackle the problems associated with that insecurity.

2. What do you think makes an effective Library Trustee?

A lot of people I talk to think it is a love of books, but I think it is more than that. A good trustee has to live at the intersection of love of community and love of equitable access to information. The written word is so much more than books and the library is more than just a place that houses books; that needs to be evident in the priorities and goals of the trustees.

3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the Library Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the Library Board and Library staff?

The library staff is an invaluable resource when looking at how plans in theory pan out in practice. I think it is important to listen to the library staff and their daily experiences and see how that reflects or contradicts our expectations and how that can impact the work we are trying to do.

4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

I think everyone has had to balance competing interests at home, work, in our community, etc. I find the most important first step to be taking my own personal interest out of the equation and understanding that what benefits me may not be what is best for the community and its goals. This isn’t always easy, but evaluating competing interests is about finding ways to serve those who are underserved, provide the best services to as many people as possible, and keeping accountable to your community. It may not always be comfortable, but from there the choice is usually more evident.

5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

I’ve learned a great deal in the past few months about running for public office, not only from personal experience, but also from watching other campaigns more closely. For me, transparency is not only defined by being able to see what your government is doing, but being able to see yourself having a hand in it! So many of the opportunities to engage in our community are inaccessible to the average citizen, and that is unacceptable. As a community we need to prioritize accessibility to participation. I believe that increased participation will lead to increased accountability and then we will all see the Oak Park we want to see emerge.

6. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?

I’m a firm believer that there is no right or wrong way to communicate with the public, but that you should try all the ways. As a Library Board Trustee, I hope to hold office hours in the library or in cafes around Oak Park so that people can feel free to engage with me face to face. I also plan to maintain an online presence because, yes, a great deal of local discourse is through social media. If I find that there are other opportunities for me to engage, I will try to avail myself of them. It’s 2019 and the sands of communication are shifting, our officials should just be ready to add more options to accessibility, not replace the ones they have already established.

7. 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 think I have done this the most in working with the population in the library experiencing housing insecurity. They have a unique set of needs from our public services and I hope to work and ensure they have access to those through the library.

I also had a sit down with some library staff and hope to do so again on a deeper level once I am on the library board. I want to know who is not using our services and why. I’ve also taken to questioning folks I see in the library, at community events, in coffee shops … I think once we have a better picture of who we do not serve we will know better how to make our services more inclusive.

8. In recent years the Library has shown leadership in undertaking a number of cutting edge initiatives, replacing security guards with social workers, paying part-time employees a living wage, and eliminating late fees for borrowers. How would you continue or expand this work?

RIGHT! How amazing is our library! The Oak Park Library and staff are very dedicated to ensuring everyone who wants to have a place in the library can have a place. It’s a work in progress, but the key word is progress. Equity and access are the buzz words I hear from everyone I talk to.

I think the next step is providing a responsible space for our budding citizenry. Teens and young adults choosing to go to the library are making one of the best choices available to them and we need to make that easier and show them they are welcome and wanted. My hope is that in the coming months/years, as the facility use is examined, we will be able to find a dedicated space where teens can work, learn, collaborate, and feel safe and valued!

9. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a formal equity lens/framework at the Library, and if so, what specifics should that policy include?

If you look up the word “equity” you’ll see two definitions; one is related to being fair and impartial, and the other references ownership. Around Oak Park we often talk about the first definition; how do we make things fair to all people, ensure that the decisions we make are impartial at least or beneficial to the underserved at best. I think a good measure for that is seeing who feels they have ownership in the community. Who in our community feels empowered to use their voice and feels confident that it holds weight? When the answer to that is “everyone”, that is equity.

I don’t know yet if the library needs a formal lens or framework to work from. One reason I say that is that because the library works with so many other organizations I don’t want there to be framework competition that takes momentum away from doing the actual work and making the real changes of equity. Rest assured, if I feel the library needs its own structure to work from, I won’t be afraid to voice my opinion on that and work with those on the board to create it.

10. What should and shouldn’t change about the services provided by the Library going forward, in an era of radical changes in how people can find and consume information?

The library is not books, it’s not ‘no talking’ signs, it is not isolation, nor should it be. The library is a community space to learn, live, and experience all that the world can offer. It should be a space of expression and exploration for our community.

Media has evolved and so has our consumption. The library has worked to evolve with it but still has space to grow. I’d like to see the community have a better knowledge of the strides the library has already taken so we know if they are sufficient. Phone apps and digital book reservations are great as long as people know they are an option. I’d also like to see a more robust use of social media to promote all of the great events and services they provide.

Our library is a hidden gem; I don’t want it hidden any more!

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

I have not received any contributions to my campaign.

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[The above answers were supplied on 2/17/19. 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.]