The Promise & Power of “Turning Outward”

“Turning outward” has marked the leadership of Oak Park Public Library Executive Director David Seleb–and it has led to profoundly important developments at the library in his four years at the helm.

David came aboard as director in May 2013, the same month that I became a library trustee. With each passing year, the wisdom of that hire is increasingly apparent, though I sensed the genuineness of his hands-on approach on the evening I was sworn in: as the photo to the left reflects, David didn’t see himself being above the task of jumping into action and serving pieces of cake that accompanied the festive occasion.

For the past two years, in my role as library board president, I worked even more closely with David as we introduced a series of changes that were a direct outgrowth of his implementation of teachings from the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation.

Among the more significant changes: the creation of a manager of community resources post, which has been ably filled by Rob Simmons, a longtime Youth Interventionist with Oak Park Township Youth Services–and Rob has received substantial back-up from the likes of Stephen Jackson. More recently, David shepherded the board through the paradigm-shifting step of eliminating late fees, a topic that was among the first subjects I raised with him when I became president. That fine-free reality takes effect on June 1st.

Throughout his tenure, David’s “turning outward” mindset, backed by action, has deeply influenced my view of what it means to be a public servant and my current service on the OPRF Board of Education. All too often, government bodies grow insular and out of touch–you can practically see the moat and drawbridge as you walk into their meetings. Not so at the library and, as I wrap up my initial week as a school board member, I am eager to continue that spirit of openness and community connection.

For anyone who truly wishes to identify, understand, and actively pursue the fulfillment of a community’s highest aspirations, I highly recommend this in-depth piece, Our Path to Engagement, Learning, and Stewardship: The Oak Park Public Library, the American Library Association, and the Harwood InstituteDavid co-authored it with Jodi Kolo, the library’s manager of communication services.

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