2020: A Year in Review Scroll down to begin

Oak Park Public Library

Putting people & Safety First

In March 2020, our world changed rapidly. As we went from living our lives, out and about, to sheltering in place under stay-at-home orders, we all were faced with making hard decisions fast.

For us, because a public library is a place of possibility and everyone is always welcome, the idea of closing our physical doors felt so strange. Yet it became clear very quickly what we had to do to keep our library staff and our community safe.

Nearly a year later, putting people and safety first has continued to guide our decisions and direction. It also has led us to creatively reinvent how we serve our community during this continuing pandemic. Read on to learn more about our work in 2020, a year like no other.

As your needs changeD, we changeD

Left: Librarians like Mr. Jose shifted to live Zoom storytimes and virtual learning and fun for kids and families. Center: Children's Services masked staff took to Oak Park's streets to hand-deliver kids' summer reading prizes safely to participants' homes. Right: Supervising Librarian Colleen holds new WiFi hotspots purchased with a grant to support more digital equity in our community. With 40 new hotspots, we are able to offer 116 hotspots for checkout (including some that were mailed to Oak Park addresses when the Main Library building was closed last year).

Whether providing remote customer service, collaborating behind the scenes, or working with masks and gloves in and around our buildings, our staff remained busy in many new ways throughout the year. Some highlights:

"You have gotten really creative in this pandemic to bend over backwards to be able to serve the community. And with a smile 😊 too!!! God bless y'all." — Patron survey respondent

growing digital library use by 120%

The safest way to keep delivering library services during a pandemic is virtually, and we did just that. From March 13 through July 21, all library buildings were closed to the public due to local and state health department mandates. During that time, we carefully and intentionally expanded the digital collection, which in 2020 saw more than double the use than in an average year. Oak Park borrowed 406,696 digital materials last year, with a monthly peak of 40,000 in both April and May (while physical collections weren't circulating) and an average of over 34,000 per month from July through November.

INstant access, reduced waits

Nearly half (48%) of 2020's new library accounts were digital—offering patrons instant access to ebooks, digital audiobooks, movies, music, magazines, and online research resources. What's more:

  • Ebook and digital audiobook users saw reduced wait times for popular titles as we added hundreds of ebooks and digital audiobooks to the collection.
  • Curious about what Oak Parkers borrowed most? In Media on Demand/Libby, it was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. In Hoopla, the most circulated audiobook was Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and the most circulated adult ebook was The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
  • Looking for news? By offering new digital access to thousands of newspapers and magazines, we dramatically widened Oak Park's periodical access.
  • Families could borrow more items at once because we extended digital checkout limits for individual accounts.
  • Readers could discover their next great digital ebook or audiobook with weekly recommendations by our We Suggest team.
  • Patrons got 24/7 on-demand help with our online resources with this new series of how-to videos—in addition to the one-on-one help available by contacting us directly and using our new live chat service.
"During these COVID times, having reliable access to media and ebooks has been a joy. Thank you!" — Patron survey respondent

And Surveys Said...

Our turning outward approach means we listen to our community and ground our work in shared aspirations. Throughout the year, our community's aspiration for safety came through loud and clear.

In May, we received about 1,000 patron responses to a survey asking about changes during March and April. When asked "What is your opinion about how we are doing in providing resources during library building closures?" most (62%) said they were satisfied or very satisfied, and 27% were neutral. And in July, the majority (85%) of staff who responded to a well-being survey said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the library's current response to COVID-19, and most agreed or strongly agreed that they had the necessary support and resources to do their jobs.

"Always responsive to my needs. Always." — Patron survey respondent
"Thank you for everything you are doing to keep everyone safe, to keep library services accessible, and to be inclusive of everyone's needs, during these difficult times." — Patron survey respondent

CREATING Safe ways to serve you

contact-free holds pickup

After Illinois' and Chicago's stay-at-home orders were lifted, more staff returned to work inside the Main Library in June to prepare for something new to us all: contact-free holds pickup.

We implemented new safety training and procedures, outlined in our employee Safer Working Guide, to keep everyone safe.

On June 15, we began offering contact-free holds pickup outside the Main Library, both at the front door for walk-ups and in the Grove Avenue cul-de-sac for vehicles, and in August patrons began picking up their holds, contact-free, inside the library. From July through November, our staff processed over 33,500 holds for cardholders.

"Thank you. I'm soooo happy we can pick up holds and keep you guys safe! You are the best....A real lift during the pandemic." @lindsayolson816 on Instagram


The Main Library reopened to the public on July 22 for expanded services, including materials browsing and self-checkout.

On July 22, the Main Library reopened to the public, and services expanded to include browsing, self-checkout, remote printing pickup, and computer reservations by appointment. Building capacity limits were set at 120 total (40 per floor), and we reserved a special visiting hour for high-risk patrons. See how we worked to keep each other safe »

From July through November, we saw an average of 12,856 visits per month, substantially lower than the average 54,483 visits per month in 2019.

"Based on my first visit back after the shutdown, I felt very safe when visiting and was so glad to be able to browse for books!" — Patron survey respondent

Summer reading Prize Delivery

Summer reading prizes were delivered safely to families' doors.

Families signed up for our kids' summer reading program and tracked their progress online, via the digital Beanstack platform. Participants blew away our goal for our community to collectively read for 450,000 minutes over the summer—in total, 646 active readers logged 569,068 minutes. Our most active reader completed over 154 hours of reading, and, of all readers who finished the challenge, 30% logged 30 hours or more! When it came time for beads and other prizes, we delivered them straight to families’ homes, keeping everyone safe and smiling behind their masks! Read: ‘Fun, familiar, safe’: Summer reading goes on »

“We’re really grateful that [the library] created a way to keep the summer reading program fun and familiar, while also being safe. The bead delivery was so joyful in our home—thank you!” — Parent Nora Flynn
"OPPL has done a fantastic job meeting the needs of the community and making book check out safe and accessible!" — Patron survey respondent

building (Virtual) community

Learning Together, Live

A virtual meeting of the English Language Conversation group in August.

Since last spring, we've used Zoom for live virtual storytimes, chess lessons, meditation sessions, book groups, language learning meetups, author and artist visits, and so much more. Read: Now virtual, English conversation program ‘has really blossomed’ »

And Surveys said...

  • 87% of library virtual program attendees surveyed said they "learned something new."
  • 91% said they would recommend the program they attended to others.
  • 95% said they would attend a similar program in the future.
"I live alone, and so I don’t have anyone to talk to. I feel great that today I had a chance to meet others virtually, and I learned many new words in English.” — Participant in English Language Conversation

Learning on demand

Library staff members recorded videos and wrote stories to share their holiday traditions and memories in the on-demand Holidays Around the World.

We've also created on-demand learning videos for all ages, including 143 unique Virtual Learning & Fun for Kids & Families videos that were viewed over 12,000 times in 2020! Live and on-demand programs continue in 2021 »

a month of restorative justice

Oak Park and River Forest High School senior Kaleigh Clarke presented a poetry workshop in the virtual Restorative Justice Conference.

The Medicine Wheel: Balancing Humanity brought a fresh perspective to the library's third annual restorative justice conference, an event growing in recognition for connecting community. This first-ever virtual event showcased 33 presenters offering 54 hours of content throughout October! The collaborative effort was led by a community planning committee and the library's Manager of Teen Services Stephen Jackson, who began using peace circles and restorative practices at the library five years ago. Additional library staff both presented at and supported the event. Read about our increasing use of restorative practices in library work »

“Connection is something so many of us need right now.” — Stephen Jackson, Manager of Teen Services
One participant in a June Grief Journaling Workshop told us: "I immediately loved and trusted the facilitators and the actual people that participated in the group. I felt so comfortable and also I felt like I was in kindred company. ... I am already registered for the next one."

supporting equity in access to technology

Take-home Tech

In 2020, we were able to widen access to mobile WiFi hotspots and devices such as Chromebooks, thanks to a $24,000 grant from the T. Kendall Hunt Family Foundation aimed at improving digital equity in our community. Starting in December, Oak Parkers gained access to 40 new hotspots (bringing the total to 116) and 40 new Chromebooks, the same devices used by Oak Park public schools. All these devices are available for checkout and extended use outside of the library.

Our first resident to borrow a laptop and hotspot to use outside the library was a Housing Forward client who had regularly used computers in the Main Library before the pandemic. Other Oak Park residents who received these devices told us they were very grateful to be able to use library devices again for school, work, checking email, and searching and applying for jobs. See technology for borrowing outside the library »

team tech tips

Because meeting in person wasn't an option, the library's four-person Digital Learning Team launched another way to serve patrons: a biweekly Tech Tips blog and email focused on computer and internet basics. The goal was to support those same cardholders who had regularly used the library's computers and requested one-on-one technical help. See all Tech Tips topics »

At left: Digital Learning Librarian John Gargiulo and the Digital Learning Team have worked hard to help patrons keep learning about technology during the pandemic. With around 500 subscribers, the Tech Tips email is one of 28 emails that anyone can subscribe to receive »

One patron who received a hotspot by mail told us that she is “constantly amazed and pleased by our public library.” She thanked us for all of our help, and shared that her “kindergarten daughter will be so relieved to have an Internet signal that is not constantly interrupted by her dad who is also working from home.”

partnering For Anti-Racism

With our middle school teachers, students & families

All Oak Park Elementary School District 97 middle school students read and discussed Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi in classes this fall. To help get the book into students' hands, we donated about 300 copies, with grant funding from the Oak Park Township. And with the Equity Team of Oak Park (E-Team), we led a virtual three-session series of family and community discussion circles. Read: ‘Kids are reflective and ready to do this work’: Supporting anti-racism in Oak Park middle schools »

"I continue to be so grateful for our partnership and for the work I get to be part of with this team. It is transformational and, I believe, the way forward in our community and country." — Frances Kraft, Equity Team of Oak Park (E-Team)

with our neighbors at the Austin Branch of the Chicago Public Library

The Anti-Racist Book Group began meeting virtually in October, connecting staff and patrons from the Austin Branch of the Chicago Public Library and the Oak Park Public Library. In December, we discussed Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist, and continued the discussion in January as "we quickly realized we had so much more to unpack," said Tatiana Swancy, Restorative Practices Coordinator.

"I am glad to finally discuss race without being emotionally drained and frustrated. I like to listen and hear rather than react." — Anti-Racist Book Group participant

Empowering people with new books

with The Book Table and more Local Nonprofits

The grant-funded Books Empower partnership has given more than 1,100 free books to community members to build their home libraries. By partnering with local bookstore The Book Table and nonprofits such as New Moms and the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society Children's Clinic, we're reaching community members who are most in need and experiencing barriers to accessing reading materials or other resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On average, of the titles distributed to each partner through February 2021:

  • 66% feature Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) characters or subjects.
  • 50% were created by BIPOC authors or illustrators.
  • 21% have been bilingual or in languages other than English.

Read: Books Empower: How we’re partnering to give new books to people who need them most »

“We jumped at the chance to be part of this exciting partnership,” says Jason Smith, co-owner of The Book Table (pictured). “This is exactly the kind of project that makes us love Oak Park.”

remote learning & kindergarten readiness

With The Equity Team of Oak Park & The Collaboration for early Childhood

For four weeks this summer, we partnered with the Equity Team of Oak Park (E-Team) and the Collaboration for Early Childhood on Ready, Set, Kindergarten! To help families connect and prepare for the school year ahead, the program included one-on-one instruction with a certified teacher over Zoom, a weekly virtual support circle for families hosted by the E-Team, and a weekly live, virtual storytime from the library. Families also received weekly activity box deliveries that included learning materials and library books personally selected for every child. Read: How we're partnering to develop young minds during COVID-19 »

Community Engagement Coordinator Jenny Jackson offering a live storytime with the Ready, Set, Kindergarten! program.
“Relationships that already felt strong seem to have a new level of care to them. The smiles everyone is sharing are so necessary and healing—for everyone. This level of connecting is really meaningful and so important right now.” — Jenny Jackson, Community Engagement Coordinator
"I feel like staff has been working hard to maintain safe standards while fulfilling requests for reading materials. I am impressed with the efficient system set up for book pickups and returns. Also, staff has been very helpful when answering telephone questions. Finally, the frequent email communications and continued improvement to apps has been great. In general, I feel OPPL has done a great job serving the community during this challenging pandemic that has disrupted all of our lives." — Patron survey respondent

Committing to change

Our anti-racism journey

Our journey began in early 2020 with Reesheda Graham Washington & RGW Consulting, LLC, whose international experience and local understanding make her uniquely positioned to support the library in this work. To begin, RGW Consulting did a lot of listening and background work, asking questions and creating safe spaces for staff to share honest answers and experiences. A report assessed where we were, finding that racism exists in both patron and staff interactions. With Board of Library Trustees support, we decided where we want to go: to take strategic steps around internal and external practices to address four different forms of racism within our library: institutional, structural, institutionalized, and interpersonal.

With RGW's support, we established a Black staff affinity group which continues to meet biweekly and an Anti-Racism Advisory Team that meets monthly. This cross-section of stakeholders—including administrators, staff, patrons, board representation, and young adults—would work together to shape the library’s strategic direction. Throughout the year, staff participated in virtual training sessions, and the Advisory Team drafted an anti-racism strategic plan. Read more about the journey from our Director of Social Services and Public Safety Rob Simmons »

Turning outward

Beginning in the summer of 2020, a group of library staff stepped forward to collaborate on curating two comprehensive guides—hundreds of specially selected books, media, articles, podcasts, and more grouped into two basic themes: Anti-Racism: A Starter’s Guide and Countering Anti-Black Sentiments.

Using those guides, the team then worked to build a unique yearlong reading program: the Anti-Racism Resource Challenge. This unique, self-guided program launched February 1, 2021. It invites community members in high school or older to join us for intentional learning experiences throughout the year. In addition to providing participants a tool to track their individual progress, the program's goal supports the library's commitment to help dismantle the systems of oppression that have created, and that fuel, racist conditions. Learn more and sign up for the challenge »

Looking ahead

In 2021, a fresh scope of work with RGW builds on the library's 2020 learning. Currently, the Advisory Team is reviewing staff feedback on its draft anti-racism strategic plan before bringing it to the Board of Library Trustees. In-depth training will involve all managers and audits of policies, job descriptions, and current procedures for staff retention and recruitment will begin. To create a more equitable lens for ongoing communication around this work, staff and RGW will partner to develop an anti-racism communications plan. Follow updates as our journey evolves »

When asked "What are your aspirations for the library's anti-racism journey?" library staff responded with great support around this thought: "I want our Black customers and customers of color to feel that the library is their place and be comfortable at all times sharing their lives with us. I also want my Black colleagues and colleagues of color to be heard, acknowledged and rewarded for their contributions to the organization."

Thank You, Donors

We are grateful to these generous 2020 donors! Learn more about library endowment funds »

  • Jim Madigan Oak Park Public Library Staff Education Fund: Timothy Zarazan
  • Fallon Family Library Fund: Amy Kaufman, Mark Stankevitz
  • Friends of the Oak Park Public Library Fund: Better World Books, Laura Kahan, Alexander Lippitt, Janice Rashid, Tazewell Rowe
  • Helen M. Harrison Endowed Book Fund: Laura Yockey
  • Oak Park Public Library Capital Fund: Abbey Taylor, Laura Yockey
  • Scoville-Hutchison Library Fund: Fon Muttamara, Ellen Pluta


While both the 2020 and 2021 annual books fairs were canceled due to the pandemic, we continue to be grateful for the Friends of the Oak Park Public Library, who, as a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, raise funds for the library and make community connections. Learn more about the Friends »

Benefactors: Jean L. Edwards; Nancy Hartman; Paul & Patricia Koko; Joseph & Judy Larscheid; Donald X. Nekrosius; Katherine Pett; David J. Seleb; James Strait; and Chet & Barbara Taranowski.

Donors: Robyn D'Alba; Sheila Elliott; Christine Marshall; Kathleen Roberts; and Gordon Waldron.

Patrons: Doris Adamczewski; Kathleen Bell; Mary Noel Chavez; Tess Donnelly; Russell Glidden; Linda Heying; Laura Hoppe; Dianne Olson; Peggy Tuck Sinko; and Beth Streit.

Our vision is to empower every voice in our community.

Our mission is to share the information, services, and opportunities that fulfill Oak Park’s aspirations.

Copyright © 2021 Oak Park Public Library