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.
Name: Mitzi Norton
Previous Political Experience: None
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Co-founder, Indivisible Brookfield; volunteer, Project NICE and Share Food Share Love; homestay host for WorldChicago
Occupation: Manager of executive administration, NielsenIQ
Education: B.A. in Psychology, Creighton University
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?
The Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library is a modern, innovative physical structure operated by a dedicated staff and led by a board that thinks big. I see limitless potential. Recently, the library provided the Brookfield community two opportunities to participate in their strategic planning process. I completed the online survey and also attended a listening session. I learned that over 1,000 surveys were submitted, which tells me that we have a very interested and engaged community of library patrons. I am confident that the input provided in the surveys and the listening sessions will be most helpful to the library board and staff in crafting a strategic plan that maximizes the institution’s potential.
I see the Brookfield Public Library as a true community- and cultural center in Brookfield, not just a physical place to check out books. The library is an education center, a museum, an art workshop, and a technology hub. I think the library board should continue offering a collection and programming that is diverse and excellent. I also believe that the library board should always be looking to improve accessibility to digital materials, so that every Brookfielder can utilize the library’s offerings – books, virtual reference, e-books, and streaming – no matter their abilities.
It is my desire to see the Brookfield community make greater use of what the library offers, and this may require expanded or new ways of communication to the community from the library. There are countless unique and useful resources within the library that people may not know exist. For example, someone who is learning to drive can practice the Illinois DMV Permit Test on our library’s website. Adults can earn their high school diploma and receive career training online via the library. And, one can register to vote or have a document notarized at the library. These are just a few examples of resources and services that can benefit all of us if we all know they are available. I think it is always helpful for the board to ask, “Are we reaching all of Brookfield? Who are we not reaching that could benefit from the library’s services?”
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?
The library of the 21st century is a combined physical environment and a digital environment that is centered around the needs of the people, providing access to tools and resources at no cost, enriching lives and strengthening communities. The role of the library is to provide a welcoming space – physical and online – that supports, teaches, and inspires.
The library should continue to offer an array of programming for every age, from infants to seniors. As Brookfield grows more diverse, the library should offer more programs in Spanish and other foreign languages, as needed. The community would also benefit from more technology classes, especially those that help learners understand the ins and outs of working in the cloud and how to make best use of their mobile devices.
With the dramatic rise in hybrid and remote work since the start of the pandemic, the library of the 21st century should be prepared for an increase in remote workers looking to spend their workday there. There will be a continued need for quiet space, as well as collaboration space. The library will always need well-functioning Wi-Fi and plenty of mobile hot spot devices available for checkout.
The pandemic also brought about a shift in the workforce and people looking for jobs. Assistance with job searches, resume writing, filing for unemployment, and trade school applications will continue to be needed. The library should remain a resource for social services for the homeless, the disadvantaged elderly, and children. If it were financially feasible, having a social worker on staff at the library would be a tremendous asset, too.
Across the past few years our library has proven itself to be resilient and future-focused, and adaptable. I believe they have lived up to their mission to “create a cultural, educational, and informational center for the community by providing readily accessible and organized materials, programs, and services that enrich the lives of residents of all ages.” I am a library patron and have experienced, first-hand, the welcoming environment of our library, and the enrichment it offers is priceless. There is no better example of the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library living out its mission than The Mobile Museum of Tolerance Civil Rights Exhibit in June 2022. This exhibit was a moving cultural immersion that prompted important discussions on hate in all its forms, nonviolent protest, and an excellent educational tool on human rights. Thanks to our library, Brookfield was very fortunate to have this experience.
While we’d all like to see the library continue to expand and grow, discontinuing programs that are not well-attended and/or do not fit the needs of the community, makes good sense to me.
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?
Based on data published by the American Library Association, we know that there was a record-setting number of challenges to books in 2022. As a library trustee, I believe it is the staff’s role to protect the library’s collection, including challenged titles. Maintaining access to library materials is an act of upholding democracy. The First Amendment is being used as a weapon to shut down marginalized groups, namely people of color and LGBTQ+ people. I am vehemently opposed to this. All libraries should provide materials and resources that represent all populations. A diverse and inclusive library collection is critical to a healthy community. We should strive to represent all viewpoints in our collection. We are a better community for learning about those who are not the same as us and those who have had different experiences.
4. What other issues are important to you as a library board candidate? How would you advocate for them as a board member?
The Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library is operated by a dedicated, future-focused, talented, diverse team of librarians and staff. As a library board candidate, I want them to know that I support and appreciate them. It is important to me that we maintain an excellent library staff, as they are the face of the library and carry out the daily tasks and responsibilities that make the library a vital community resource. To that end, I would advocate for development opportunities for the staff to learn and grow, and bring those key learnings back to our library for consideration. I spent most of my career in higher education and understand that lifelong learning benefits not only the individual, but also the institution they serve.
It is also important that the library board continues to be fiscally responsible with resident funding of library programs and services, especially during periods of economic instability. I would advocate for alternative or creative means of funding library programs, such as by sharing programming costs with other libraries (e.g. having an online program across multiple libraries and sharing the cost of the facilitator or speaker).