RB Landmark sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The candidates’ replies are as shown as they were received by the Landmark. For more on a candidate, click their name or photo.
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 Board of Trustees is currently undergoing a process to formulate our Long Range Plan. There was a survey sent out and listening sessions held as a start to this process. Making the transition to the new library was a tremendous undertaking. Both the staff and the public still need time to acclimate to the new space and “grow into it.”
John Edgar Mihelic
To engage with the premise of that question, I don’t know if you can say we are completely settled. The board and staff worked hard to ensure success of the project. I feel we have a fine showpiece building that gives the Village of Brookfield something to brag about, but we are still learning about the facility both in terms of the structure and campus, and in how the public engages with it. Additionally, on top of that, we are still dealing with the low unemployment environment which has created hiring challenges for all organizations in the past year.
Currently, the board is in the middle of the strategic planning process so we can assess how well we are meeting the community’s needs and what we can do to make sure that we build on our strengths and limit whatever perceived weaknesses we might have. The goal is to serve the community and to be a good neighbor in our immediate surroundings.
I think it is important to remember that the library is not just the one building on Park, Lincoln, and Grand. I live on the southeast side of the village, and one thing that you notice is that aside from having the best park, the south side feels underserved by village services. The north side of Brookfield is the center of gravity for village services, and one thing I want to move towards is directly serving the residents south of Ogden. This service can be as simple as a book bike to a potential satellite branch, but we have to balance all these needs within the constraints of the library’s budget.
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?”
Karl A. Olson
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.
The library board must continue to respond to the needs of the community. The resident survey that began the strategic planning process in October is a great way to get feedback from the community. Continuing to seek input from residents in listening session and then building short and long term goals for the library is an excellent way to move forward. Additionally, the library board must continue to identify and safeguard revenue streams, including grants and donors, for the library.
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 is the cultural, educational, and social hub of the community. The library is continuously striving to meet that end. The needs of the community will change with time. The building was designed with flexibility in mind for future needs.
I believe there are ways we can expand and enrich community awareness of the diversity amid and around us without alienating our patrons and community members.
John Edgar Mihelic
The history of the library in Brookfield starts with the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie at the turn of the last century. One of the things that Carnegie, as well as other thinkers at the time, knew was that an educated populace is a social good. This meant that there was investment not just in more public schooling, but also in building capacity for all the people in the community, so Carnegie endowed libraries nation-wide. At the time, that capacity building meant books, but it also meant public lectures and discussion groups.
The Library as a public institution, both then and now, is not just about books – it never was. The Library is about access and dissemination of information. However, information is not just sitting there. The information is not of use without trained professionals to guide you to what you want and maybe to something that you need but you did not even know. More than books, it is the service of connecting people with information and each other. It is an incredibly important institution in that it is neutral ground for gathering throughout the community for all ages. Having a place like the Library can hopefully build bridges so that we can all be part of a community, as important a connection in the first century as in the twenty-first century.
I am incredibly proud of the staff and leadership as they navigated two huge changes in the last few years. Transitioning to a new building would be exciting yet stressful at any time, but doing so while trying to balance the needs of the community with the need to be safe in the uncertainty of the pandemic made it even more difficult. To do both while maintaining and expanding programming like the maker space is something that I as a board member am dazzled by. It makes me think of the quote about how Ginger Rodgers did everything Fred Astaire did – but backwards and in high heels.
That said, there are almost twenty thousand people in Brookfield, and each person has a different vision of what the Library is and can be. Our job as democratically elected board members is to listen to those viewpoints and create a communal vision as we play our role in guiding the Library into the future. We will continue to offer as much to the community within the various constraints of budget, space, staff time, and staff expertise that we can so that we meet the needs and desires of the community while recognizing that we cannot be everything for everyone.
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.
Karl A. Olson
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.
When I started as an academic librarian 22 years ago, libraries and their patrons looked very different from the way they do now. We are more reliant on the internet, mobile devices, and e-content. However, not everyone can afford all of these technologies or have the knowledge to navigate content. Libraries are places where people can have equal access to these things. In 2023, we are more likely to work from home, participate in the gig economy, or be online content creators. Libraries can offer spaces, equipment, and programming on these newer trends. And yes, in assisting the public with these things, and providing so much more through programming, the library does fulfill its mission “create a cultural, educational, and informational center for the community by providing readily accessible and organized materials, programs, and services…”
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?
Staff members must adhere to the policy set forth by the Board of Trustees regarding censorship and the removal of materials. It is not an individual decision. The Board of Trustees supports the First Amendment.
Even with the new building, space is limited. The inter-library loan system is invaluable in providing materials for our patrons while keeping costs within budget. The library also has an impressive online database.
John Edgar Mihelic
It already feels cliché to point out that historically, the people who are banning books are not the good people. To truly understand any text, you need to understand the context, literally meaning “contextus,” from con- ‘together’ + texere ‘to weave’. This means that a student of the world will take a singular text and use it to fill in their own puzzle of how the world looks. Removing that piece, or any others, leaves an incomplete picture for that person.
More concretely, the Library is for everyone in the community. People in Brookfield represent the full spectrum of humanity across all axes you could imagine: language; culture; gender; sexuality; race; age; education level; and interests. It is quite literally our mission to serve everyone: “The mission of the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library is 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.” As such, I will not allow anyone a heckler’s veto over a controversial text or program. In fact, the presence of such texts and programs is incredibly important in that broader understanding of the world that I strive for. It should not be something to cover up, but a jumping off point for conversation. If you as a resident are really worried about the content of a book, read it yourself. Make that judgment for you and your family. I want to reiterate that the Library is for everyone and that includes all political stripes. What I will not do is allow bad faith actors to use a fake moral crusade as a wedge issue to bring in fascism as it grows in the United States. It is imperative for all true lovers of liberty to stand against these censorship efforts. The end goal of these aspirational authoritarians is not to censor us, but to create a culture of fear so that we censor ourselves. We must not give in to that impulse.
The staff of the library is always evaluating the collection. They are responsive to what will be popular at any one time and try to make sure they will meet demand with copies of the latest texts and weed the materials that are no longer in demand. They have an existing process in place for challenged material. I have full confidence in the staff to use their professional judgement on where material belongs if they see the need for it in our collections. One thing that I want to point out here is that Brookfield has been incredibly lucky in the leadership of the library. For almost two decades, Kimberly Coughran has been the Library Director in charge of the day-to-day activity in the library. It is through her drive and vision that the library is what it is today. The role of the board is in oversight and financial management, but Coughran and her staff are in the trenches every day. They have my full support.
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.
Karl A. Olson
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.
As a library board member, my role, in part, is to advocate for the library and set policies for the operation of the library. Currently, there are policies in place that the library and board of trustees follow when an item is challenged for removal from the library. The process is fair and gives the resident an opportunity to express their concerns about an item(s). One of the things I love about Brookfield is the diversity that I see in the village’s residents. We can see ourselves reflected in the schools, the businesses, the residents, and, yes, in the collection at the library. I have witnessed firsthand in the library’s willingness to purchase materials that enrich my life and my daughter’s life.
4. What other issues are important to you as a library board candidate? How would you advocate for them as a board member?
I see a great opportunity for the library to remain vibrant and grow in its role as a hub in the community. I would love to continue being a part of that process.
John Edgar Mihelic
One thing that I am conscious of from both my professional and volunteer activity is that there are a lot of organizations doing good work chipping away at some need in the community. Locally, we have multiple organizations fighting hunger; providing mental health services; providing emergency and long-term housing; supporting people with disabilities and their families; and so much more. Each of these organizations reports services and outcomes to different funders from private foundations to the government at different levels.
What really strikes me is the gaps though. One gap is in data. There’s a flow of data often between a service provider and the funder, but once reported there is a wall where transparency should be, both for the general public and providers. I have a larger goal to leverage my positions where I have influence to move towards standardization and sharing so that we have access to the data we create and help pay for. I think this would help organizations run more efficiently.
The other gap is in access. All the organizations I know work within their professional abilities to make sure that the needs of their participants are met, and they try their best to connect them to the services they are eligible for. The fact remains that public supports in our country are incredibly fragmented. Ideally you would have one application and that would determine your eligibility for a full spectrum of wraparound services, but that is not how it works. There are many individual nodes with a variety of funding sources serving their own specific and directed mission. I have a vision where the Library, as the neutral third party, can host a social worker to serve as a point guard to help people make these connections. I know that there are communities in the state that have worked with this model, and I think it might be useful in our community.
There are two caveats to this vision though. The first is that I do not want to replicate an existing service. We do not want to duplicate efforts, but instead seek out those who are already doing it and support them if they exist. The second is that I am always mindful of the constraints, both on the library staff’s time and effort as well as our financial capabilities. If there is one thing always on my mind, it is the knowledge that funding for the library comes out of the pocket of everyone who lives or works in the village. I remain steadfast in recognizing this and making sure we leverage our collective investment for the greatest social returns.
One last thing – please participate. Our democracy depends on participation from writing letters to showing up to meetings to having citizens run for office. But it begins with voting at the most basic level. You can go online and complain but that’s not participating in the process that Americans have fought and died for. I would rather lose a sharply contested election where everyone had their voices heard than to win an election where only nine percent of people showed up.
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).
Karl A. Olson
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.
As a trustee, I would like ensure a healthy library budget for any planning or programs that the library would like implement down the road. I know the library just built a beautiful new facility. But, as our diverse populations within the village shift, so must the library. I am interested in serving the Spanish-speaking/bilingual population in our town. I would like to ensure that the many residents who live in apartment buildings in town know they have library access and encourage them to use the resources offered through the library. Finally, I hope to put my many years of experience as a librarian and a resident of Brookfield together to serve my hometown.