The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Landmark’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.

Karl Olson | Provided

Name: Karl A. Olson

Age: 44

Previous Political Experience: Legislative aide to a Texas State Representative, in college; worked on a campaign for the Illinois State Senate in the early 2000s. 

Previous/Current Community Involvement: Member, School Advisory Board, St. Francis Xavier in La Grange; committee member for Boy Scout Pack 33; den leader, Lions Den

Occupation: Semi-retired stay-at-home dad. Background in small business development; worked as a marketing research consultant after graduate school. 

Education: B.A. in government and B.A. in anthropology, University of Texas at Austin; M.B.A., University of Maryland

1. Brookfield Public Library staff and patrons have now settled into a new building, providing space and the opportunity to provide more programming and services. What do you believe the library board must do in the coming four years to maximize the institution’s potential?

I am a huge fan of libraries in general and ours in particular. I worked in my local library as a teenager.  I feel the new building is a credit to the community. I am not running with an intention of making significant changes, but to ensure that the solid work I have seen recently is continued. While a frequent patron of the library (we live three blocks away and know many of the librarians by name), I’d be a set of fresh eyes on the board.

Now that we have the building that we need, I’d like to see its use popularized. We have fantastic meeting spaces, I’d like to see a bit more done to get community groups to use them.  I think that is mostly a matter of time and outreach. 

I also want to make sure that the southern part of town is equally represented in the library their taxes fund. I understand the library is looking at low cost mobile programs to bring materials and programming to residents who don’t live within walking distance of the library building. I want to support and expand on these plans. 

2. What do you believe is the role of a library in the 21st century? What kind of programming and services should a library offer; what should it not offer? Is the library meeting its mission now? Why or why not?

Libraries are no longer just about providing access to books – which we already do remarkably well – but about providing a community meeting space and community programming. As a parent, I know the library already provides fantastic programming for children particularly in the early childhood years (whoever thought to add children’s yoga/zumba events is brilliant.) I want to see that continue. I think we also do an excellent job of serving the needs of our teens and senior citizens. Our library offers excellent programming as is. My goal on the board is to ensure it stays the course. Of course, we do need to make sure that our programming doesn’t become stale and evolves as needed. 

3. In the past couple of years, throughout the nation and even locally, there have been attempts to censor library materials. As a library trustee, how would you suggest staff approach requests to remove materials? Do you believe the library’s collection serves and reflects Brookfield? How can it improve?

As a kid I mined banned book lists for reading material. If someone thought I shouldn’t read something, I was deeply  curious as to why. I’ve seen a number of libraries recently appeal to this sentiment with prominent tables highlighting banned books. I like that approach. You can consider me a firewall against censorship. 

On a more nuanced angle, the library doesn’t have an endless budget and can’t stock every book. It doesn’t stock pornography and I don’t think it should. My wife and I spoke about this recently, pondering what defines “pornography” to us. Many of the books that people want to see banned are described as being “porn.” To me material where the purpose of the content is explicitly to titillate is “pornography.” Material whose sexual content is part of a narrative or educational, is not. 

When asked to remove materials, I’d have the librarians remind patrons that there are plenty of books in the stacks they don’t agree with themselves. The purpose of the library is to open lines of discussion, not shield people from content. 

On a broader note, I think our collection already serves the community well. I’ve never had trouble getting books I’d like through SWAN. While I understand the cost constraints of providing digital material, I think we’d done an excellent job at that as well. 

I’d like to see more “recommended” and curated tables. I walk into book stores and always find things to read, because they have tables and displays showcasing interesting books. We have some at the library, but I think more would be ideal. I also love that the library has branched out beyond books and offers things like STEM material and board games for check out. 

4. What other issues are important to you as a library board candidate? How would you advocate for them as a board member?

We need to make sure that we are careful stewards of the community’s tax dollars. I will always promote a balanced budget and an eye towards thrift – so long as we do not sacrifice the quality of programming Brookfield has come to expect from the library. 

I’d also like to see closer cooperation with the town. I recall the parks department hosting a summer kickoff event the same day that the library was hosting theirs. My kids couldn’t go to both. That speaks to me of a lack of communication that I’d like to see bridged.