"If books could have more, give more, be more, show more, they would still need readers, who bring to them sound and smell and light and all the rest that can't be in books. The book needs you."
Those words, by author Gary Paulson, appear on the glass enclosing the Main Library’s central staircase, right across from the shelves where many of you pick up books you’ve put on hold. This summer, those shelves were filled with copies of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, our selection for this summer’s One Book, One Oak Park community reading program. Since May, more than 500 people have checked out Coates’ book.
Beyond simply reading the book, you’ve talked about it, with us and with your neighbors. So many participants who came to discussions both inside and outside the library have told us the series changed their own perspectives on race. “It’s not easy to address hard and necessary subjects, but this series makes it a little easier,” said one.
Throughout June and July, the library has provided safe spaces for provocative, honest discussions, and we’ve seen higher than average program attendance. The book, chosen based on community feedback, has proved to be especially relevant this summer. Given current events and national discussions on race relations, we’ve found it to be more pressing than ever for our community to have opportunities to come together to discuss the issues that matter.
We were thrilled to see so many of you, out of a standing-room-only crowd, share your thoughts at the Main Library on July 19, during a panel discussion on the future of integration in Oak Park. Leaders from the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, the Oak Park Residence Corporation, and Success of All Youth noted the energy in the room, the need for citizens to make their voices heard, and the need for Oak Park to resist complacency.
Oak Parkers’ courage and willingness to share their stories and personal experiences, as well as their thoughts on the book, have truly made One Book, One Oak Park a meaningful series that’s allowed us to learn from one another, appreciate different perspectives, and ultimately grow more connected as a community.
More than 85 people attended the program’s finale Thursday, July 28, at the Main Library. Author and professor emeritus George Bailey led a panel discussion of columnist and professor John Fountain; author and associate professor of history Dr. Lionel Kimble; journalist, professor, author, and filmmaker Stan West; and School Principal & Co-Founder of the Village Leadership Academy Nakisha Hobbs.
The library expects to continue these types of open public conversations in the fall and winter. Planning is in development for panel discussions, guest speaker visits, and more.
Kathleen Spale is Assistant Manager of Materials Services at the Oak Park Public Library.