After nearly two decades of service on the board of trustees at the Forest Park Public Library, Karen Childs has witnessed the institution evolve alongside technological innovations and changes in the village, earning its place as one of the most simultaneously steadfast and innovative institutions in Forest Park.
Childs decision to join the board of trustees in September 2000 was born out of her frequent visits to the library with her children. Childs, who homeschooled her kids, was a regular patron and caught the attention of then library director Krista Kloepper.
“You seem to love the library, would you like to join the board?” Kloepper asked.
Because her busy schedule revolved around her children’s schooling, serving on the library board seemed to be one of the few ways that Childs thought she could give back to her community. She said yes.
Nineteen years later, the process for serving on the library’s board of trustees is more official. Prospective candidates must sign an initial online volunteer form and interview with the mayor.
While technically four official board positions must be filled—president, vice president, secretary and treasurer—the board’s six trustees maintain a relative lack of hierarchy, resulting in what Childs describes as a friendly and noncompetitive environment for decision making. Childs, who stepped into the role of president in 2016 after serving as vice president for eight years, holds the primary responsibility of running the board’s monthly meetings, as well as serving on the buildings and policy committees.
According to Childs, the challenges faced by the board throughout her time serving have been more a reflection of the cultural challenge of adapting to technology’s presence in library work.
“Some people wish that the library was still the way it was from when they remember it; they want it to be a quiet place with all books,” she said.
The largest project during Childs time as a trustee is the current redevelopment project—estimated to begin in fall 2019—that will redesign the library’s layout and functionality.
She sees the plan as accommodating the varied needs of the library’s patrons, especially in a time when technology is increasingly present in daily life.
“We really have to ask, ‘What is the library’s purpose and role right now?’ It’s not just a place to hold books and materials anymore,” she said.
Childs said the library has become more of a community meeting place, where groups and individuals gather for activities such as business meetings, job interviews and study groups. At the same time, many frequent the library for its quiet spaces. Much of the redevelopment plans were born from patron feedback, with noise level being one of the primary complains that the library receives.
“We are looking at different ways to accommodate different people’s needs,” Childs said, adding: “Even if the feedback isn’t always positive, it’s helpful to hear.”
Childs sees the future of the library as bright, as long as it continues to evolve with the changing needs of the community. The library also recently partnered to bring social work interns from Loyola University to work with patrons and help those who need more personalized advice.
It is these types of innovations, which provide patrons with increased access to knowledge, that motivate Childs to continue her service on the board. According to Childs, the financial accessibility of the library is essential, as was exemplified during the financial downturn of 2008, when library patronage starkly increased.
“I love the access that the library provides everyone to things that they might [not] have on their own. Keeping that available to everyone is my priority,” Childs said.