Rodger Brayden, Forest Park’s retiring library director, might not approve of calling the changes he has led at the public library over his 11 years a full-scale revolution. So let’s just call it a full-tilt evolution. 

When Brayden was hired, Forest Park’s library was a stodgy, unhappy place. The pay was low, the hours were short, teens were suspect not welcome, the library board bickered with the village council, the library was defined by books on paper and its four limiting walls.

Brayden, who took up librarying as a second career after a long stint in the Air Force, is modest. He acknowledges that the library needed adjustments when he arrived. The truth is, it needed a full-scale reinvention and he has been at the helm as that has been accomplished. 

He is rightly generous with sharing the credit. He starts with Forest Parkers who approved a notable tax hike in 2006 and the library board members who sold that idea to voters. That revenue increase allowed many things to happen. Some were longer hours and improvements to the facility and the technology that has revolutionized our views of what a community library means. 

But Brayden says the greatest upside to the added resources was the ability to add staff members and to pay them a suitable wage. Forest Park’s library was no longer seen as a backwater but as a launching pad for talented and innovative young librarians. 

The entire tenor of the library has turned. Everyone is welcome to the handsome and up-to-date facility at Jackson and Desplaines. Youth Services is genuinely welcoming to children, especially teens, who now have their own room with a staff that doesn’t shush them but encourages and empowers them. “A sanctuary for our working parents,” Brayden calls the effort. The library is active in town, taking part in parades and holiday events and has become well known for its Trivia Night at the Beacon Tap.

Brayden credits staff for the turnaround. “They did all the doing. I was just the witness,” he said last week to the Review’s John Rice.

Staff members, in turn, give their quiet boss the credit. They describe him as encouraging and a great communicator, warm and approachable.

Surely, Rodger Brayden will be a tough leader to replace. But he leaves behind a library with a vision, a purpose and a team in place.

End of an era

It is happening across America. The men who served in World War II are dying and with them the era of the VFW — Veterans of Foreign Wars — is also slowly passing.

Forest Park’s nearly 70-year-old VFW has now announced that it has closed. Decades of camaraderie and service are remembered and honored by all of us who had dads and moms in service during those almost impossibly challenging years.

The post-war decades will be remembered as times of growth, optimism and possibility. And so, too, in Forest Park with its stand-alone VFW hall and rousing membership. That is what we will remember.